Best Actors on the Planet? I think so.

April 24, 2008 at 9:00 pm (pop culture) (, , , , , , , , , )

Normally I think that lists make for lazy blog posts. And they do. But recently I caught a glimpse of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s IMBD site while searching for Charlie Kaufman’s new film Synedoche, New York. Many of the message board posts were about whether he was indeed the “Best Actor on the Planet” or “annoying and overrated”. It got me thinking about who I thought were the best (male) actors in the world – people who have given consistently great, epic performances elevating even subpar films into art. Undoubtedly some deserving people will be left off this list but for what it’s worth these people, in no particular order, are truly badass and a testament to their craft.

1. Phillip Seymour Hoffman – Obviously, this entire list was inspired by him. I’m always amazed at how Hoffman throws himself into each role with a complete lack of vanity and delivers searing, intense performances of troubled characters in the midst of often desperate circumstances. I’ve yet to see Capote (I know, I know) but his performances in Boogie Nights, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Happiness, Magnolia, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Almost Famous and Twister — yup, that’s right, Twister — are more than enough to make his case. He’s got the chops and integrity of a character actor workhorse, but luckily for us, he has recently been able to step out as leading man (Capote) or as the main actor in an ensemble piece (Before the Devil.., Synedoche, NY).

2. Tommy Lee Jones – I adore how Tommy Lee Jones’ no nonsense, Texas straight-talkin is inextricable from his Ivy League intellect. His measured, weary performance in No Country for Old Men was overlooked as was his moving neo-western Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. This man’s man has been setting the screen on fire since TV’s Lonesome Dove and best of all as Doolitte, Loretta Lynn’s husband in Coal Miner’s Daughter, or what I like to call the best bio-pic ever, EVER. Consistently thoughtful and explosive with a wry sense of humor thrown in, he’s just about perfect.

3. Daniel Auteuil – Often called the French Robert De Niro (see below) because of their physical resemblance and sheer level of commitment to every role. Auteuil is equally adept in contemporary and costume dramas, thriller and comedies. His “everyman” bearing renders him immediately relatable if not always sympathetic or likeable – a choice which sets him apart from many actors who turn unsavory characters into (anti)heroes to win over the audience. Whereas Auteuil’s men are often conflicted, flawed and self-absorbed but honest until the final reel. A mega-star in France for Jean De Florette, Un Coeur en Hiver (one of the best films of all time IMHO),and Queen Margot, he’s best known in the U.S. for Michael Haneke’s film Caché.

4. Robert De Niro – What is there to say about the man who starred in Godfather 2, yowzaGoodfellas, Cape Fear, Wag the Dog, Awakenings, Raging Bull, Brazil, Mean Streets, The Deer Hunter and Taxi Driver? His filmography spans the list of the best American films of all time. Recently he has been picking silly projects (Godsend, Rocky and Bullwinkle) that are slowly eroding his legacy through caricature. But even if De Niro were to make films with Hannah Montana or the Jones Brothers for the rest of his life, he is still an icon (and decent director) that disappears into every role and lets his work speak for itself. He should also be given credit for choosing to age gracefully unlike a certain Godfather 2 co-star who looks botoxed and orange. How unseemly.

5. Koji Yakusho – In the name of full disclosure, I must say that I am totally in love with this man. I became a Yakusho fan after viewing him as brooding cop in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s superior thriller/urban alienation nightmare, Cure. He’s starred in at least five other Kurosawa films of varying degrees of quality (Doppelganger, Pulse, Retribution, Charisma, Seance), worked with master Shohei Imamura in Cannes Palme d’or winner The Eel and his kooky tribute to female sexuality Warm Water Under a Red Bridge, not to mention crossover hit Shall we Dance? (which spawned an awful remake). Yakusho also co-starred in the classic Itami Juzo film, Tampopo as a kinky gangster epicure and Americans saw him in Memoirs of a Geisha and Babel. Considered to represent the average everyman type, Yakusho’s disarming personality leaves you unprepared for many of his character’s violent outbursts and haunted pasts. He is such a relaxed and natural actor that the lingering power of his performances will come as a shock.

6. Morgan Freeman- I’m sure I’m not the only one who wishes that Morgan Freeman WAS actually some of the characters he has portrayed – God (Bruce Almighty), the President (Deep Impact), your best friend (Shawshank Redemption), the narrator of your life (March of the Penguins), or maybe just your grandfather. Brings incredible gravitas, depth and warmth to his roles. Too often relegated to playing the lead white actor’s sidekick, friend, martyr, driver etc…Freeman transcends his supporting roles with the reassuring wisdom and dignity in his voice and bearing.

7. Max Von Sydow – is still alive my friends! The lead from so many of Bergman’s iconic films like The Seventh Seal, The Virgin Spring and Winter Light was also in The Exorcist as the elderly priest and continues to make movies — unfortunately Rush Hour 3 is one of them but a man has to eat I suppose. There is something grand and regal yet achingly human about Von Sydow so when you look at him as a angst-ridden knight, grieving father and avenger, world-weary priest or the devil himself in Needful Things, he’s seems to encompass all of the pitfalls and potential of humanity at once.

8. Gary Oldman– Cool yet with the latent malevolence of a coiled snake. This dynamic actor is known best for his portrayal of characters on the fringe of society and morality. His most memorable scenes are the craziest — the screaming, pill-popping cop in The Professional, as Sirius Black in Harry Potter, raving Beethoven in Immortal Beloved, dreadlocked, white rasta in True Romance and the self-destructive Sid Vicious. Oldman is underused recently and hopefully he has a few lead roles lined up for the future.

9. Jeffrey Wright – Oldman’s costar in Basquiat, Wright is a genius at playing haunted, troubled characters. He is without a doubt the most underrated actor on this list and is unfortunately effected by the lack of roles for black actors. Otherwise, there is no doubt that he would be up for the same roles as Phillip Seymour Hoffman and his ilk. Wright’s subtlety and uncanny way of showing a character’s inner life through gestures and voice inflections are profoundly affecting. In a change of pace from his usually heavy roles, Wright recently played the upbeat supporting character Winston in Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers and nearly stole the film from Bill Murray. Stunning performances also in Angels in America, The Manchurian Candidate, and Lackawanna Blues.

10. Daniel Day Lewis – Bill the Butcher, Daniel Planiview, Hawkeye, John Proctor, Christy Brown, Gerry Conlon… just like the titans he plays, Day-Lewis is not even an actor anymore, he is: a force of nature, a weapon of mass destruction, a bad mutha-shut-yo-mouth, and he will drink your MILKSHAKE! Nuff said.

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