Wednesday, March 30, 2016
The Bottom Half of my 2015 Cinematic Viewing (The Better Half):
16. Bridge of Spies dir. Stephen Spielberg, starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Scott Shepherd, Sebastian Koch, Alan Alda-A visually beautiful film and a nice compliment to Spielberg’s filmography. I’m happy with this film earning a Best Picture nomination as it was an interesting contrast to the other seven choices and this is superior to that subgenre of bland period piece that is made to win these kinds of awards (looking at you “The Queen”). That said, I felt like knocking it down a few notches because the historic character seemed tweaked a bit to fit the standard Tom Hanks persona so it wasn’t as much of an acting challenge. I also feel like the film could have been more kinetic even though the film’s fans say that is a complaint of the ADD generation.
17. Ant Man, co-written by Edgar Wright, starring Paul Rudd, Corey Stoll, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena, Bobby Cannavale, w/small doses of Judy Greer-I’ve pretty much reached my saturation point with superhero films but you can’t deny the originality about a superhero who goes microscopic. Some of the stuff (i.e. “I’m in a tight spot, time to go subatomic!”) seemingly comes straight out of a 1950’s B-movie (or at least the version that was gently parodied on that one episode of “Star Trek Voyager”), but hey, the film has a lot of built-in novelty with the special effects and action scenes. There’s a fair amount of going through the motions with the action scenes but the principals are game enough to carry the material and, hello, microscopic action scenes!
18. Jurassic World, dir. Colin Trevorrow, prod. Steven Spielberg, starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent Denofrio, Irrfran Khan, Jake Johnson, Lauren Lapkus-Was I wrong in expecting a Spielberg-produced film to have more of a pro-nature leaning? Spielberg’s past films that featured monstrous animals (i.e. the original “Jurassic Park”, “Jaws”, the Spielberg-produced “Super 8”) never really posit the beast as the villain but rather uses them as a metaphor for fear of the unknown. But Jurassic World’s baddie is cartoonishly amoral and it’s a mildly disturbing creative direction to take the series. Other than that, I didn’t find the kids as annoying as most critics did, I liked Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard’s chemistry, and Lauren Lapkus and Jake Johnson played admirable comic relief. The Lapkus-Johnson non-romance (she has a boyfriend, ouch! oh wait, there's an awkward hug, awww) is the best lampshading of romantic conventions I’ve seen from a film in a while.
19. Pitch Perfect 2 dir. Elizabeth Banks, starring Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Skyler Austin, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Katey Segal, Adam Devine, Keegan-Michael Key- Not a bad film. Points are docked for originality, of course, but as sequels go, it fulfills its destiny pretty well by knowing the original’s sweet spots and expanding upon them. Plot credibility, of course, flies out the window here to keep the cast in tact: A senior intentionally flunks three times just to stay in an a capella group, somehow the guy who ditched the group to sing back-up for John Mayer is back, etc.
20. Chappie, dir. Neill Blokamp, starring Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver and the voice of Sharlito Copely-Not sure why the critics are hating on Blokamp here, but I found this to possess that same kind of regional cinema charm as District 9. It’s a moderately thought-provoking sci-fi concept about whether one can truly become sentient and if it falls short of answering that question, it’s because there really isn’t a satisfactory answer anyway (I’ve always had the same complaint of Data on “Star Trek: TNG”). The film has some wickedly funny moments that are funnier than the film has any right to be and, for me at least, it worked.
21. Home, voiced by Rhianna, Jim Parsons, Steve Martin-These three were so adorable as an odd triplet of sorts on the press rounds that I gave in and watched this on Netflix. It’s about as good or as bad as you’d expect: A passable level of charm, some multi-level humor, and mildly impressive visuals.
22. No Way Out, starring Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan-Times really have changed that critics and the vocal subset of movie goers who voice their opinions online no longer tolerate anything that’s politically incorrect. Hey, as long as you don’t retroactively move to revoke the Best Picture nomination for “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, I’m ok with highlighting the faults of something this ridiculous. At the same time, this was a year in which I saw a lot of politically correct films that are terrible in other ways, so this film is still pretty far from the bottom. It’s actually a narratively interesting film in the manner of Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men” or “Gravity” in which the outside world is painted through the periphery of a single character’s journey. Also, the action is pretty intense in a good way.
23. McFarland USA, starring Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Carlos Pratt-A sincere and well-shot film but one that’s ultimately forgettable. That it was released in cinema’s graveyard season (January-April) is a good indication that it wasn’t particularly good but I had to see it for myself because I was an avid cross-country runner in high school. The efforts by the film to turn cross-country into an action sport come off more like Terrence Malick than an ESPN-driven style and (while there’s merit in the former), perhaps the latter might have made the film a bit more memorable. Marginally worth watching if you run. Oh and there are white people and Hispanics getting along and learning about each other's cultures (in other words, a very tacked-on atttempt at thematic racial harmony).
24. Terminator: Genysis, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Courtney Jai, Jason Clarke, JK Simmons-Although I didn’t experience Terminator until I was in my 20s, this was my most anticipated film of the summer. Even the bad reviews couldn’t steer me away because the franchise has such a great pedigree (intricate time travel scenarios, cat-and-mouse games with an indestructible robot, etc) but somehow the film found a way to mangle a can’t-lose situation. How? By attempting to tie into the plot continuity of the series while simultaneously erasing everything that came before it. I could listen to a defense of whether the new storyline makes sense but the film’s reasoning is just surface-level dumb. This is one of those situations where the only way to salvage a chance at an enjoyable viewing experience is to turn your brain off which is shame considering this is such a thought-provoking series.
25. Hunger Games IV: Mocking Jay Part II dir. by someone other than Gary Ross, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Helmsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Julianne Moore, Donald Sutherland, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson-To be fair, I went into the film (more like dragged) thinking it should be ashamed of its existence. Aside from the fact that splitting up the last part of the trilogy strikes me as the low road, The Hunger Games seems like a perfectly self-contained story. One could make the argument that Katniss and her empty gaze as she looks out the train towards an uncertain future is a poignant way to end a serviceable adaptation of a very good book. Why do we need to know all the details of what comes next? I still more or less maintain that the film would have been better off not existing, but if it HAD to exist, it wasn’t terrible (only moderately disappointing) but better stories have been told about dystopic politics. The special effects were certainly innovative.
26. Rikki and the Flash, dir. Jonathan Demme, starring Meryl Streep, Mamie Gummer, Kevin Kline, Audra McDonald, Rick Springfield-I still haven’t forgiven Demme for scaring the hell out of me when I watched ”Silence of the Lambs” as a kid. I’ve enjoyed some of his films since, but his problem is the opposite here: This film is completely and utterly boring. Demme uses a similar style to 2008 critical hit “Rachel Getting Married” but repeating the framework of the last film verbatim is like trying to use the same magic trick twice on the same audience: It doesn’t feel like this film has anything to say that hasn’t been said more profoundly with Jenny Lumet’s screenplay in RGM.
27. Staten Island Summer, written by Colin Jost, starring Graham Williams, Zach Perlman, Ashley Johnson, Bobby Moynihan, Cecily Strong, Mike O’Brien-You would think that the increased prestige of the home market that people would be doing innovative things with direct-to-video movies. So far, the stuff I’ve watched (I saw Coffeetown in 2013, Camp Takota in 2014, and this) has been equivalent to the stuff you’d see in the $3 bin at Target. In other words, the new class of direct-to-video movies seems about a s good as the old class of direct-to-video films. Written by that SNL Weekend Update anchor who has been roundly criticized for lacking in personality, this film isn’t much of a step up for him. It aims low (which isn’t a good thing) and moderately delivers on that low mark, but considering the degree of difficulty is so low to start with, why bother?
28. Tomorrowland, dir. Brad Bird, starring Britt Robertson, George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Raffey Cassidy-One of my goals in writing about film is to argue that the state of moviedom would be better if we collectively acknowledged that George Clooney is overplayed. And yet, I am guilty of occasionally buying a ticket to a George Clooney film on my own volition because there’s a catch to trying to avoid a star you don’t like: The man works with some of the best directors in Hollywood in projects so promising, that even his unwanted presence can’t bring down a film to the point where I wouldn’t want to see it. The premise of a film about the future based on the world’s fair exhibits with Brad Bird at the helm seemed too good to resist, but I wish I made more effort. This is an incoherent mess with simultaneously little and too much interest in investing the viewer in what little coherence there is. And did I mention that the main relationship is with a grown man and his unrequited love for a robot who still looks nine years old?
29. San Andreas, starring Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandria Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Paul Giamatti-This falls to the bottom of the list because the film’s reason for existence is just so paper thin. I might have been satisfied if the film didn’t pretend it was about anything more than things going kaboom, but devoting precious minutes to a B-plot in which Paul Giamatti plays a doctor of geology trying to exposition away something that makes no sense is a ridiculous gambit to try to turn exposition into meaningful drama. It would be the equivalent of adding a dramatic subplot to "The Fast and Furious" involving the guy who designed the fuel mix. Not that the A-plot has any meaningful characterization. I’m thrilled to see Alexandra Daddario and Carla Gugino get gainful employment in movies but their chemistry with Dwayne Johnson is utterly unconvincing as a nuclear family. The only way I’d make an exception for a film this shallow is if it were directed by Roland Emmerich whose entire skill set as a director is restricted to blowing up cities in style. I can marginally tolerate Emmerich exploiting the same cinematic blueprint in marginally different scenarios but filmdom doesn’t have room for Emmerich and a no-name emulating Emmerich’s style.
30. Pixels, dir. by some guy who basically did whatever Adam Sandler told him to do, starring Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage-I was intrigued by the video game concept but silly me for not taking into account the squandering of a good thing by the black hole known as Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Production Company. Twenty years after his departure from SNL, Sandler’s comic career is a prime example of what happens to a comic if a lack of studio interference and a steady (but not great) box office following inhibits a comic’s growth. I would argue that Sandler’s 8-year-old-in-a-grown-man’s-body shtick never held that much appeal but the rest of the public seemed to like him when he first broke out and even those supporters now agree his star wattage seems to be fading.
Here is the ranking of the first 30 films I have seen in 2015 (Bottom Half can be found here):
4. Star Wars VII, dir. George Lucas, starring Daisey Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac, Donmhall Gleeson-For this viewer, Star Wars’s biggest achievement was convincing me that it had a reason to exist. Return of the Jedi wrapped things up in such an uber-happy ending that I couldn’t see a possible reason for continuing the story except more money. J.J. Abrams’s version was transformative on that front. Not only did it achieve the task of investing me in a story I considered closed but it was about as good as a film could be.
1. Spotlight, dir. Thomas McCarthy, starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, Rachel McAdams, Brian D’Arcy James, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci- The critical consensus is that this film is the shit and I won’t disagree. It’s kinetic, does a great job of deepening its characters with little or no exposition, has a solid amount of world-building and has all that profound social significance you expect from an Oscar front-runner without being preachy. Did I mention it’s about journalism and I’m a journalist? I love that its best picture win is raising at least some degree of awareness that high-quality journalism adds up to something.
2. The Martian, dir. Ridley Scott, starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Kristen Wiig-A fun science-fiction film that doesn’t skimp on the science or the action. Matt Damon got his third Oscar nomination for this film but it’s more the way the character is written that deserves the credit. Damon’s character exists in a haunting isolation that he faces with a thin veneer of optimistic plunk and the fact that his struggle can hold your attention so well is a testament to the writing. The action is smartly divided between Mars’ sole resident, his ship mates in space, and mission control on Earth and the latter two settings are populated with all sorts of gems including Kristen Wiig, Donald Glover, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Jessica Chastain, and Chiwetel Ejiofor.
3. Joy, dir. David O Russell, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro, Bradley Cooper, Isabella Rossellini, Edgar Ramirez, Virginia Madsen-I don’t know if my head would agree that this is the third best film of the year, but it just worked for me emotionally. Made in the same history-as-a-loose-guideline-for-my-actors-whims spirit as “American Hustle,” Joy caters to the strengths of its players (particularly, Bradley Cooper’s manic confidence) but is more grounded in a narrative of the struggle to make it in a dog-eat-dog world. As with Spotlight and journalism, the film does a good job of world-building with inventions and QVC. I also like that the film is unapologetic of showing how bad Joy’s family is and doesn’t treat it as something that needs to be resolved in a bow at the end. Edgar Ramirez has a breakout performance here.
5. Big Short, dir. Adam McKay, starring Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Jeremy Strong, Melissa Leo, Marissa Tomei, Brad Pitt-The comic genius behind the immortal line “I love lamp” has an Oscar. What a year it’s been for Adam McKay: He used to be known primarily as a skilled comic writer who found his way to some studio money, and now he’s being courted by Democatic presidential candidates for an endorsement. Big Short contains a pretty sharp ensemble with at least two highly memorable characters and contains the kind of comic bounce that protégé Tina Fey (yep, Adam McKay technically recruited Fey to SNL) and others use on TV: Supercuts, cutaways, and flashbacks keep the story moving.
6. Inside Out, voices Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Diane Lane-One of Pixar’s best and most original film in years. Few films really explore an outside topic so well (Inception and dreams comes to mind) that they serve such a pedagogical purpose which is important for a kids’ movie. The comedy and adventure are pretty masterfully done here. It’s an example of Pixar in its groove.
7. Mustang, dir. Deniz Erguven-I actually reviewed this one and you can read it here. In short, I described it as a hellish version of Little House on the Prairie. Following five orphaned sisters under a house arrest imposed by their conservative uncle in small-town Turkey, the film’s technicality recalls Terrence Malick for the ethereal exploration of the present or Jonothan Demme’s more small-scale stuff with a focus on found moments of joy. At the same time, it’s a pretty scary look at restrictive societies.
8. Everest, starring Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Emily Watson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Kelly, Kiera Knightley, Robin Wright-Not a popular film but, hey, you can’t win them all. I had the added benefits of watching this film in 3D AND of not really knowing that it was a disaster film. Perhaps, that’s why the heartbreak of the climbers not making it down resonated so much with me. Some complained that the film was too ambitious with its large ensemble, but there was a lot in Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Jon Hawkes and Emily Watson’s characters to keep their fates engaging. Like Inside Out and child psychology or Love and Mercy and the Beach Boys, this is a film that had me rushing to the library (or the internet or whatever) to learn all I could and become an Everest-phile.
9. Man from Uncle, dir. Guy Ritchie, starring Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Hugh Grant, Elizabeth Debicki, Sylvester Groth -Whether it was awards juggernaut Mad Max: Fury Road, Jurassic Park tearing up the box office, or Star Wars VII realizing the dreams of fanboys and fangirls, there was an aura of credibility to tentpole films this year. My pick for best action film is this slick spy homage from action auteur Guy Richie. Like his last masterwork, Sherlock Holmes, he creates a distinct time and place: The luxury and extravagance of mid-century Italy (scenery porn galore! Even the shots of meals alone will make your mouth water) with an undercurrent of Cold War paranoia. The film’s buddy chemistry between the two leads and the girl is playful (with the appropriate level of homoerotic satire) and Alicia Vikander is an odd mix of Aurdrey Hepburnesque cuteness and playfully lethal in a way that works.
10. Love and Mercy, starring John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti, Bill Camp, Erin Drake, written by Oren Moverman, Michael Lerner-Like Everest, this is a film that turned me onto something new. I’m embarrassed to say that I previously only knew of the Beach Boys as the group of famous musicians who would randomly pop in on the Tanner residence when Full House needed a ratings boost. The film’s split narrative device can be wobbly at times and there are more than a few awkward moments (the Brian and Melinda courtship comes off as strange to say the least) but the film brings it on the emotional front. The four principals in the cast each carry very heavy material: Paul Giamatti channels some pretty epic villainy, Elizabeth Banks makes a very awkward courting process on paper work and unleashes a killer instinct in later scenes, John Cusack impresses with quiet moments, and Paul Dano steals the show by selling the genius and the emotional breakdown of a young Brian Wilson
11. Trumbo, dir. Jay Roach, starring Bryan Cranston, Elle Fanning, Louis CK, Diane Lane, Michael Stuhlbarg, John Goodman-As a sucker for Hollywood history, it’s hard to resist watching actors of today doing their best impressions of Hollywood royalty. It’s a solid story dragged down by Bryan Cranston’s slightly cartoonish take and half-hearted attempts to infuse the material with a comic tone (though Stephen Root and John Goodman pull off the funny quite well). It’s an important film that successfully avoids being overly preachy.
12. Our Brand is Crisis dir. David Gordon Greene, starring Sandra Bullock, Anthony Mackie, Joaquim de Almeida, Billy Bob Thornton, Zoe Kazan, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy- An underlooked political drama about the rivalry between two ace political strategists (Sandra Bullock channeling a slightly darker version of her frazzled but endearing rom-com persona and Billy Bob Thornton channeling James Carville) working different sides of a Bolivian election. With a supporting cast that includes Scoot McNairy (he with the name that’s extremely easy to misspell), Zoe Kazan and Ann Dowd, the film boasts an enjoyable camaraderie and this is easily one of Sandra Bullock’s best performances. Like Trumbo, it successfully threads the needle of thought-provoking without being overly preachy, even if the resolution is slightly less profound than it thinks it is. Bonus points if you’ve recently been to Bolivia (i.e. me!)
13. Mad Max: Fury Road dir. George Miller, starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Bryne, Rosie Huntington-Whitely-In light of the fact that putting such a popular film somewhere in the middle of the queue will draw complaints, it seems preferable here to pre-emptively answer the question “why isn’t this in your top five?’ and it would be even better if I had a good answer to that question. The things that are praised- the exploration of society’s male-female dichotomy and the can’t-be-faked special effects – are things I agree with on all counts but I don’t necessarily think the special effects or the gender explorations of other films are particularly lacking. I also think that Imortan Joe and his goons could have used just a tad more subtlety. Still, this certainly was something unique and different and the narrative worked whole-heartedly.
14. Sicario, dir. Denis Villeneuve, starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Dan Kaluuya-I’ve wanted to see a good Mexican border/drug cartel film for a while, but aside from a great performance by Emily Blunt, this isn’t that film. It felt slightly more like a slightly tired entry of the gangster genre than something profound and new. I prefer the series “The Bridge” which is truly all that and a bag of chips and while I can’t personally recommend Stephen Soderberg’s “Traffic” (I’ve inexplicably never seen it), it sounds like a great film. “Sicario” is still a pretty good film and I can’t say enough good things about Emily Blunt, but I just don’t think it’s THE film.
15. Hot Tub Time Machine 2, starring Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Adam Scott, Gillian Jacobs, Kumail Nanjiani-I can’t imagine there are more than half a dozen people on the entire planet who bothered writing up a comprehensive ranking of their greatest films from 2015 and ranked Hot Tub Time Machine 2 ahead of Bridge of Spies. I realize this got negative reviews for crude and dumb characters, but there is a lot dumber and cruder stuff out there (Adam Sandler, Johnny Knoxville, Tyler Perry, Eddie Murphy, “Entourage the Movie”, the “Dumb and Dumber” Series, etc, etc., etc.). Yes, these characters are idiots but there’s a comic rhythm to their shared idiocy that hit the sweet spot for me and the naiveté of Adam Scott’s character made him a great straight man and contrast to the trio. I read this film as a trippier version of Back to the Future with a higher level of Murphy’s Law-infused stupidity.
Friday, March 25, 2016
This is a list of best actors working today based on how likely it is today that if you cast them in your movie, that film will succeed commercially and/or in terms of critical/awards recognition with weight given to the last three or four years or so.
Also, worth noting, I'll reference Oscar nominationss and BP appearances but I pay attention to other stuff like BAFTA, GGs, how often it appears on critics' top ten lists, comments on IMDB message boards, but Oscars are slightly easier to cite and to remember.
This power ranking was written at the end of 2015, so view it as a snapshot of December 31, 2015. The last edition (published December 2012) was here:
Chime in and tell me who you think should move in or out, up and down
1. Matt Damon-I'm thinking back to 2006 when Scorsese cast both DiCaprio and Damon as leads in the Departed and Ed Zwick and Robert De Niro reportedly agreed to basically work around Departed's schedule for their prestige films (Blood Diamond which succeeded and Good Shepard which er.. had noble intentions). Since then, they've been pretty much the go-to guys for any prestige project wracking up Oscar buzz wherever they go, picking among the most innovative projects, killing it on the acting side, and generating good will as Hollywood ambassadors. I give the edge to Damon because he has better commercial appeal (The Bourne series, The Martian). I don't think Damon would invest himself in a prestige film without commercial legs like DiCaprio
did with J. Edgar and I don't think DiCaprio would be willing to play action or humor.
2. Leonardo DiCaprio-At this point, the current generation of young adults has grown up with Leonardo DiCaprio as the very capable star of all of their favorite films. His status is summed up pretty well by Sasha Stone at Awards Daily makes a convincing case that pretty much the only thing teenagers know about the Oscars is that DiCaprio doesn't have one.
"I suspect one of the biggest draws, in addition to Creed and The Martian, to encourage the younger generations to give a damn about the Oscars will be the question of whether or not Leonardo DiCaprio can pull off a victory, since his lack of an Oscar win has become practically a cultural cause célèbre."
3. Christian Bale-One of those actors for whom the talk of his talent is mythical enough that you've (or at least I have) heard the "best of his generation" appraisals of his in the years leading up to his breakout roles. The centerpiece of the most successful tent pole trilogy with Dark Knight, he can carry an action franchise and although he failed to do the Terminator series justice in 2009's Terminator Salvation, it says a lot that he was cast as the guy to resurrect another franchise. Critically, he's a staple of David O Russell's high-flying Oscar streak in the 2010s and he's back in the Oscar conversation this year with a third nomination and a 3rd BP film in Big Short. Also working with Terrence Malick.
4. Benedict Cumberbatch-Extremely talented and versatile guy who just won an Emmy in TV and has been in Oscar BP films in the past couple years (he's been in 4 BP noms total if you count War Horse and Atonement) along with an action role in Star Trek II. Of all the up-and-comers, I think he is posed for longevity
5.Bradley Cooper-His Inside the Actor's Studio pedigree and his friendly intensity off-screen does wonders in making him a likeable box office draw (IMO). He was in 3 BP nominees in the past few years and had tentpole/comic potential in the Hangover series. It helps a lot that he didn't do his last BP nominee with Eastwood which shows he can succeed outside of the David O Russell factory. Pretty untarnished by Aloha and Burnt was a fun lightweight change of pace for him.
6. Michael Fassbender-X-Men and Prometheus are fine enough tent pole credentials and he's pretty much all over the map in high-end directors-David Cronenberg, Steve McQueen, Ridley Scott, Danny Boyle,etc. and with the exception of Prometheus, Shame, A Dangerous Method, 12 Years a Slave and Steve Jobs have all been critical darlings. As evidence of his pedigree, consider how Jobs was not treated as a must-watch film with Ashton Kutcher in the lead
7. Brad Pitt-Clooney and Pitt are arguably more poster boys of the ideal Hollywood actor in the 2000's than the best and most productive actors and I think there’s a division. If not, Elvis Prestley and Frank Sinatra would have been the best actors of the 50’s. The thing is unlike Clooney, Pitt still has the potential to do his best acting in future films. He really broke out as a top tier actor in 2011 by turning in two of the best performances of anyone that year in Oscar BP nominees (Tree of Life & Proof of Life). With appearances in two other BP nominees in the last three years, he’s still relevant.
8. Joaquin Phoenix-He doesn’t get that “best actor of his generation” buzz that DiCaprio or Bale get, but can I make the argument that he should? Pretty much every film he touches puts it in the Oscar race every year-Her got nominated and Master and Inherent Vice were pretty darn close. This year, he did a Woody Allen which rarely generates buzz outside of the Woody Allen fanbase and generally lives or dies on the strength of its writing (I don’t think Charlize Theron killed Curse of Jaded Scorpion’s chances).
9. Denzel Washington-The #Oscarssowhite movement could benefit him in the future as people will have to put their money where their mouth is and treat his next films like gold. Since the early 90’s, he’s been one of Hollywood’s most dependable brands and in that sense he’s pretty much timeless. Filming a Magnificent Seven remake now that I have no doubt his name on the marquis will help.
10. Will Smith-From about 1996 to say 2009, Smith was pretty much the most dependable box office draw Hollywood had (Men in Black III was riding on past glory), and while he’s out of it, there’s little
evidence he couldn’t return and Concussion gave him a decent shot at a third Oscar nom which isn’t shabby.
11.Johnny Depp-I would have ranked him in the top 5 about five or six years ago. He is still loved as the epitome of a talented actor making daring choices. Even though Alice in Wonderland and Lone Ranger are highly commercial, he miraculously holds onto a reputation as an artist’s artist. Fewer of them have panned out in the past year but his brand is strong with Jack Sparrow and Alice in Wonderland (both of which sequels have already been planned out).
12. George Clooney-He hasn’t had a noteworthy performance since 2011 and I imagine that’s starting to count for something. The Monuments Men and Tomorrowland were both highly forgettable and his role in Gravity wasn’t as essential as advertised. The fact that Hail Cesar is coming out in February indicates that this is more Ladykillers than No Country for Old Men. Then again, he’s on the front pages of tabloids and is constantly name checked as Mr. Hollywood, so that capital still goes a long way, but to some degree it’s worth mentioning that he’s more the posterboy for Hollywood than the most successful actor working today.
13. Matthew McConaughey-Hollywood isn’t as now-obsessed as one would imagine. The McConassaince was more of a 2012-2013 thing, effectively ended by Insterstellar, but the world is still this guy’s oyster. He’s already had the likeable quality that still can drive a romcom but he’s added the bearings of a prestige actor to his resume and at times he’s been the top choice for a prestige part like Interstellar. Plus True Detective.
14. Ryan Gosling-Mr. Handsome has not been particularly steady but he’s liable to pop up in any given year and kill it whether 2007 (Lars and the Real Girl), 2011 (Drive, Crazy Stupid Love) or 2015 (The Big Short).
15. Hugh Jackman-Like Bradley Cooper and McConaughey, Jackman has cultivated a persona offscreen as likeable and there’s a school of thought that it helps his brand immensely. He’s extremely versatile
in genres – musicals, historical epics, comedies, superhero flicks- and his Oscar nomination three years ago gives him that prestige.
16. Ralph Fiennes-Primarily known as the classy British guy of refined heritage you plug into period pieces -- The White Countess, Quiz Show, End of the Affair, Avenger -- he's shown a lot of range as a villain with Red Dragon and the Harry Potter films and last year, broke out as a comic star. He can definitely bend quite a bit if Hollywood. He's actually been in 6 best picture nominees-Quiz Show, Schindler's List, English Patient, Reader, Hurt Locker, and GBH, so he knows how to pick them too.
17. Tom Hardy- There's a bunch of young guys who have broken out recently -- Joseph GL, Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Henry Cavill -- but Hardy's had somewhat of a cult following since Bronson and Layer Cake and many of his film choices are credible indie darlings (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was he first English language film of Tomas Alfredson, Warrior was also a pretty low budget thing) and he can step over to a big tentpole film like Mad Max and Inception. Was in 2 BP nominees this year.
18. Michael Keaton-Like McConaughey a couple years ago, Keaton is at a place where he's pretty hot and can pretty much do anything. He followed up Birdman with a film that has a good chance at winning the Best Picture Oscar again. Personally, I've never seen him as a great actor, but it's not about me but an objective ranking.
19. Sean Penn-Like Bale, he gets the "best of his generation" tag a bit, and he is that good. He was definitely top 5 material in the 2000's, but he hasn't been particularly active lately. I also feel a possibility that he might be heading the path of Mel Gibson and becoming so unlikeable as a public persona that it might affect his box office (the El Chapo interview didn't look good for him)
20. Robert Downey Jr.-He has the tentpole credentials of Iron Man (the centerpiece of the megasuccessful Avengers) and Sherlock Holmes and brings his own brand of cool to the former and a refusal to see the part as lowly genre fare to the latter (for which he got a Golden Globe). He is an exceptional actor and can make a smart character emotionally affecting BUT he did some damage to his reputation with The Judge. It's not just that the film bombed but it showed Downey Jr going back to the same character tics of his more acclaimed roles and suggested he might not have that many tricks left in the bag.
21. Ben Affleck-He has a highly complicated relationship with the public and has undergone two of the most bizarre cases of celebrity worship gone wrong (with Gigli and his casting as Batman) but he is a Hollywood pro who is extremely intelligent about his career and his future, and deep Hollywood knows it (case in point: the public outpouring of love for his Argo win was a de facto "we're sorry we were so *beep* to you ten years ago" apology). Although he has a BAFTA nom (for Argo), he's not Sean Penn-level good but he's a capable leading man, and has enough clout as a producer/director/man about town to find films that cater to his strengths as an actor (Hollywoodland and Gone Girl were perfect matches of it).
22. Will Ferrell-The most reliable comic actor in Hollywood. He wasn't in Adam McKay's last film but he's a frequent collaborator so if McKay's getting a boost so should he. Neither Get Hard not Daddy's Home was a stroke of genius but he's creative enough in defining characters that there's little reason to count his ability to bring an iconic Ron Burgundy-like character in his next outing.
23. Tom Hanks-Like Denzel Washington, he's simply timeless. He will definitely get anyone the attention of someone who's maybe 35 or older with every project he does. He's not Mr. Now, but strangely enough he's been in 4 best picture nominee in the last six years: Toy Story 3, EL & IC, Captain Phillips, Bridge of Spies.
Loses points because Da Vinci Code never really caught on and Hanks really could have had the power to make that film an event picture if he played the part like Indiana Jones.
24. Mark Ruffalo-He's on his third Oscar nomination since 2010 and has been in such critically acclaimed works as Kids are Allright, Foxcatcher, Spotlight, while doing indie fare such as Infinitely Polar Bear and Begin Again, AND playing a big role in the Marvel Universe. He even improved on past performances of The Hulk.
25. Channing Tatum- Built like an action herobut plays that tortured youth persona that I equate with James Dean or Montgomery Clift. He has talent and if he doesn’t have the requisite talent,
it’s clear he chooses his parts with great ambition.
26. Steve Carell-He's a guy who can play comedy and lead a film and is getting some dramatic acclaim. Ironic as it is, but I think Date Night was the best example I've seen of him carrying a movie as the straight guy like Paul Rudd or Jason Bateman does and that is a big skill.
27. Chris Pratt-The man of the moment for headlining the two biggest hits of the past two summers. I love this guy but there I have to question how much range he has outside of bringing a different
sort of energy to an action film.
28. Seth Rogen-One of the most bankable funnymen and his ability to co-direct lets him control his own image more. His serious role in Steve Jobs wasn’t full fledged Jerry Lewis playing a sad clown in terms of comic going full dramatic, but it showed that like Louis CK and Zach Galifiranakis, he can be dropped into a prestige drama without inducing a humongous laughing fit from the audience
29. Liam Neeson-Whether Neeson is one of the most successful actors today depends on whether you think there's merit in taking on three to four movies a year indiscriminately. Personally, I think being a workaholic is benefitting him as it's getting his name out there more and odds are sooner or later, he's going to walk into a great film or a great role. Besides, no one is alleging he's making these movies worse through his presence. He has always been an extremely gifted actor. As he's stated in interviews, the reasons that he's taking on more roles are because it helps him stay busy in the wake of his wife's death so who is going to fault him for that.
30. Daniel Craig-If outacting every James Bond that came before him wasn't enough, he's already had roles that showed off great acting chops (Infamous, Munich, even Road to Perdition) and is positioned to take on more high-caliber roles with Bond behind him.