Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Great (film) Debates vol. 11

Some people claim that actors are important to modern films. I can see their point. . . a little. And I'm told they play "roles." So let's go with that.

Who is your favorite modern actor and what is their best role?


Panelist: Tennessee Jed

Dustin Hoffman has shown incredible versatility over the years: Midnight Cowboy (which is his best in my opinion) Papillon, Marathon Man, Lenny, Hook. Ratso Rizzo was one of the great characters of all time. Extremely close second is Gene Hackman who has too many excellent roles to choose just one. Possibly, The Conversation is his best.

Panelist: T-Rav

As much as he’s gone round the bend lately for everyone-knows-what, I’m going to have to go with Mel Gibson. While I vehemently disagree with some of his beliefs and drunken remarks, there is no denying that the man can turn in some truly powerful performances. And it doesn’t matter that these are generally war or action movies, like Mad Max, Patriot, or Braveheart; he can really bring you into the film and raise it above simple violence to an almost spiritual plane, something that doesn’t happen very often. Whatever kind of person he is off-camera, he’s darn good at what he does on camera. His best role for me would be in The Patriot, largely because he encapsulates so much of what our ancestors fought for.

Panelist: AndrewPrice

There are so many good choices, but I keep coming back to one name: Bruce Willis. He's not the greatest actor nor does he have the star power of many others, but he's the one guy whose films I will always see. . . even the bad ones. My favorite role for Willis is either Corbin Dallas in The Fifth Element, where he shows both action hero chops and subtle comic genius, or ultra-tough guy John Smith in Last Man Standing.

Panelist: ScottDS

Unfortunately, I must abstain from these. I like some modern actors (Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson, Liam Neeson, etc.) but I wouldn’t call any a "favorite" and the presence of any one actor, sadly, is not enough to get me into the theater.


Comments? Thoughts? Who would you choose and why?

65 comments:

Tennessee Jed said...

It should be remembered as we discuss that the question is FAVORITE actor, not necessarily BEST actor, although I suspect there will usually be at least some correlation. I can't help but mention an earlier discussion about actors who play themselves vs. "disappear" into the role.

Tennessee Jed said...

All panelists have reasonable choices. Interestingly, Andrew, Rav and myself chose leading men as opposed to character actors. Come on Scott, while I appreciate where you are coming from, man up. In my corporate managing days, I was often required to force rank my people. Think of Andrew's post from the other day. Good drama requires the characters to make difficult choices. You are going to be permitted to watch the movies of one actor before I incarcerate you forever. Which actor's movies will it be? ;-)

ScottDS said...

(I'm in the process of moving but I managed to catch a spare minute!)

Reading over the other replies, I feel bad for not mentioning at least one name but, try as I might, I really don't have a favorite actor. There are actors I like, including all the ones mentioned, but none I would call a "favorite." I've always been more interested in character actors anyway and we've already covered that topic.


Jed - (sigh) And what kind of man would I be if I backpedaled? :-)

Honestly, I might've said Dustin Hoffman but, in the interests of avoiding duplicates, I'll say Nicolas Cage. I know, it's easy to parody and mock him and he has some strange ticks that turn people off but he plays every role with the utmost sincerity and never dumbs himself down. And I hear he's a huge geek, too!

Floyd R. Turbo said...

The question too can be split further... "Modern".... Hoffman and Hackman are a different generation than Bale/Crowe, etc.

Getting me into a theater is more the director now plus economics. Nolan, Favreau -- they'll get me into a theater.

Anyway... actor.

I'm going to go with Christian Bale... Equilibrium, Rescue Dawn, The Prestige, the Batman films, The Machinist, American Psycho, etc., etc.

I'll go with Equilibrium -- who can resist gun fu?
I'll go with

Tennessee Jed said...

Floyd - you bring up an important point (modern actor.) The question is, of course begged: "how do you define 'modern' in the context of actor? You kind of took a stab at it by mentioning the descriptive term generation. There is no right or wrong answer, naturally, because, it is definitely in the mind's eye of the beholder.

Tennessee Jed said...

In his early career, Hoffman was a "disapper in the role" kind of a guy. Gibson, to me, has been a "play himself" kind of a guy, as has Bruce Willis. None of this has anything to do with how effective they are, of course.

Joel Farnham said...

My favorite actor is Robert Downey Jr. I really haven't seen him play a role that didn't grab me. I mean he was even good in a series, Ally McBeal. Too bad, FOX dropped him. It led directly to the collapse of that show. To be fair, Downey has a drug problem and FOX couldn't have a high profile actor with an uncontrollable addiction.

Tennessee Jed said...

Scott - if it makes you feel any better, I do understand where you are coming from regarding this. The whole notion of academy awards, best anything lists can seem pointless (and probably are) but are still fun becuase they cause insert water cooler, barroom, online) discussions.

Tennessee Jed said...

Joe - I must agree with you about Robert Downey, Jr. He is an actor I really enjoy, and has a certain hard to define quality that draws you to him. I first remember him in the period movie "Restoration." Obviously, like many of his counterparts, he has really struggled with substance abuse, and I hope he remains successful at combating it because he is a fine actor.

Tennessee Jed said...

Joel - my "L" key didn't depress!!

mycrofth4 said...

I can't think of any actor that will automatically get me into the theater. I love Bruce Willis, but I waited to see several of his movies on video even back when I went to the theater every weekend.
It's almost impossible to pick A favorite actor since it depends on what kind of movie you're in the mood for. Your favorite actor for an action movie probably isn't the same as your favorite for a comedy or a drama.
Will Smith is great in action movies and comedies, but I'd rather watch Steel Magnolias than see him in another drama.
I probably see more Hugh Jackman movies these days than anyone else, but that's because my wife and I both like him.

LawHawkRFD said...

I really hate admitting this, but Johnny Depp is at least somewhere near the top of my list. He's not as political as Sean Penn, but unlike Penn's movies, I watch almost every Depp movie that comes out. His phony "look, I'm civilized so I live in France" routine irritates me, but I can completely separate his personal life from his roles.

BevfromNYC said...

I like the other Hoffman - Phillip Seymour Hoffman. He plays a wide range of characters and has been really wonderful in each. From the pudgy weirdo in "Boogie Nights" to Truman Capote in "Capote" to broad comedy.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Right, this is just favorite actor!

Also, this wasn't "actress" -- that was another question, but not everyone has answered that yet.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Don't forget to take the appliances and steal the copper wires from the walls! ;)

I like Nick Cage a lot as well. I can't quite tell you why, but I've always enjoyed his performances and I usually like his films. Interesting choice!


P.S. Nice work making Scott decide Jed! :)

AndrewPrice said...

Floyd, Equilibrium is a great movie and was the first time I really noticed Bale. Since then, I've watched all his other stuff and really came to realize that he is a special actor. Very impressive!

On the "modern" category, we probably could break this up into 5-6 time periods because Hollywood does seem to have different period. In fact, a couple of the panelist actually asked for clarification on that point.

Perhaps we'll be more specific in the future!

It's interesting you should mention directors because I am more interested in directors too. And Nolan is the top of my list right now!

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, That's a good point to and I wonder if the great actors don't change over time? I've noticed that actors change the way they work over the years. Some of the guys who get good at disappearing into roles will later starting playing themselves -- William Hurt comes to mind. On the other hand, most of the "I play myself" guys eventually try to disappear into roles when their popularity starts to sag.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I can't tell you why, but I like RJD a lot myself. He's one of those guys who just has something that you like watching on screen. My favorite role for him was easily Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder! What a brilliant role and an incredible bit of acting!

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I'm not a fan of awards or ranking lists either because people tend to treat them as objective, when they really aren't. Top 10 "best" films is actually a meaningless thing -- it's just "the 10 films I like most."

Nevertheless, these kinds of discussions can be quite entertaining when people keep in mind that opinions may vary and none of it should be taken too seriously.

AndrewPrice said...

mycroft, That's true, it does depend on the film as much (or moreso) than the actor. And it is hard to say that any actor gets me rushing to the theater these days. But there are some whose stuff I will always check out just because I like them a lot. Willis is the main one for me. I will always make a point to see his movies.

Jackmann is a good choice. I think I first noticed him in the X-Men franchise and since then I've liked most of what he does.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I'm a big fan of Depp's acting -- not the man, but the acting. I think he's one of the best of our time and I've always found his performances fascinating to watch. I don't always enjoy his films sadly, but he's never let me down with his own acting within those films and I do try to see everything he stars in.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I like him too. What's interesting about Hoffman is that he's one of those "disappear into a role" actors and he does it so well that I saw him in several movies and didn't even realize it was always him. Good choice!

Tennessee Jed said...

Some great choices; all qualify among my favorites (Bale,Depp, Crowe, P.S. Hoffman, etc.)

Andrew - did I give an actress yet (Jed said sheepishly)

I don't know that a "best" list necessarily has to be nothing more than a favorites list, but often it is. Andrew, I think you once opined on that very topic. One can give relatively objective reasons as to "why" they feel one is superior to another. Let's face it, if I went up against Christy Yamaguchi in figure skating, it would be obvious that she would be superior to me (and Tom Hanks for that matter.) But at some point, two skaters, dancers, etc. are both so good that it really comes down to the subjective in choosing one over the other (as Scott points out.)

Also, as mycrofths points out, one can choose somebody different for different types of role.

Tennessee Jed said...

Hoffman was great at Capote, but I was sore he won best actor for Capote when Joaquin Phoenix lost out for Johhny Cash. Both were wonderful exhibitions of acting, but I felt like having to actually sing made Johnny Cash the more demanding role. (Believe it or not, I also think Cash's personna was a little more difficult to capture without making the role into a caricature.) Darn, that would make another topic unto itself; most convincing portrayal of an actual person. I do know this, though. Not a penny of mine will ever be paid to watch the fortcoming "hit" job former great actress Meryl Streep will be doing on the namesake of my dog (Lady Margaret Thatcher.) :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, You have indeed given your choice. :)

I agree that a top/best list can be relatively objective, but you need to come up with actual criteria and stick to them. Though ultimately, when you get down to looking at several "close" films, it does become subjective.

What bothers me about most of these top/best lists is that most people list a handful of famous films and a handful of films they like without really thinking through why they chose those. Then people will start listing "what about this?" and the author will start backpedaling immediately... until they say "I was only trying to spark discussion." Yeah right. The truth is the author never thought through their list.

I agree on the choices above, excellent choices. I forgot to mention Crowe -- he's really impressive too! I love his stuff.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Joaquin Phoenix and Adrien Brody are two of my favorite "young" actors. I think both are truly excellent.

BevfromNYC said...

Oh, is this one of those "actor" meaning women too?

Well, hands down for me - Cate Blanchette. I know, I know. Many of you don't like her, but I think, like Seymour Hoffman, she disappears into roles.

TennJ - I have never been a Meryl Streep fan. I think she is a great technical actress and can cry and do accents on cue. She acts from her head and not from her soul. Though she did a great Julia Childs!

Ed said...

I know he's not popular with conservatives, but Robert De Niro. He's always good!

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, We have been planning to do actresses separately, but feel free to bend the rules. This is Commentarama after all and we don't follow rules. :)

I would probably list Anna Farris as my favorite at the moment because she's got amazing comedic timing.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I like DeNiro a lot. He's been in many of my favorite films and he's always solid!

T-Rav said...

I think Cage, Bale, and Depp are all strong choices, although Depp weirds me out a bit and honestly, I don't know if Bale's had enough memorable roles on his own to put him on my favorites list. I know, he's had some great stuff like American Psycho, I just feel like he needs a couple more.

And yeah, yeah, I haven't gotten around to the favorite actresses thing either, mainly because I don't have that many. I will say, though, I didn't care much about Nicole Kidman one way or the other, but I watched "The Others" for the first time a week or two ago and she really impressed me. Maybe I'll have to rethink her.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I think Bale has proven he's a remarkable actor in some really obscure films. He has had some really impressive larger movies now (like Dark Knight), but I agree that he's still getting public awareness. I think he will prove it.

The Others is fantastic! It's one of my favorite horror films because it's so different and really swings you between terror of the ghosts and terror of how she treats her kids and then strange depression.... and then the twist! Wow! And I think Kidman made that film. I'm not sure any other actress would have been able to carry off the vibe she gave the role of an insane tyrannical mother who is simultaneously terrified. Excellent performance!

Tennessee Jed said...

I won't go down the actress route today. They deserve their own day and a separate "debate." Bev - There have been some roles she has done where I felt she was excellent. I must admit, although the film was not my normal cup of tea, she was superb in Mamma Mia (a favorite of my wife and her buddies.) Interestingly, I just saw a film with a young Streep teamed with Roy Scheider. It was, at best, only a fair movie. It was the first time I had seen her, and I saw it about the time critics were wetting the bed over French Lieutenant's Woman. I had to admit, a couple of her scenes definitely got me respecting her acting chops. As she has grown older, she has gotten more overtly progressive political agenda oriented. She was drunk at the Golden Globes one year (hardly alone in that, of course) when she went on an anti-Bush rant. After that, remaking the Manchurian Candidate, and Lie Down with the Liberals had me crying out "No Nas!"

T-Rav said...

Andrew, I gather you kinda liked The Others then. ;-)

Jed, I have never been able to like Meryl Streep. I don't know why; I think the first roles I saw her in, she came across as this really stern schoolmarm of a person (so I was totally unsurprised to learn she's a raving progressive), and to suddenly play completely opposite that in Mamma Mia seemed so grotesque it turned me off. Actually, everything about that movie turned me off...Pierce Brosnan singing? What the @#$%?!

AndrewPrice said...

Jed and T-Rav, I'm not a fan of Streep either. She's the first actor that I recall going over the top politically ("the Streeping of science" as they called it). But even beyond that, I just don't like her. She's too angry or desperate in her roles somehow.


T-Rav, Yep, in fact I listed it last week as one of my five favorites. It's a great film and it deserves much more recognition than it gets.

CrisD said...

I liked Al Pacino. (I think he is a bit of a jerk but, hey, they're ack-touursss.
Are we going to do LEAST favorite (heehee)?

AndrewPrice said...

CrisD, "They're ack-touursss"! LOL! So true!

We could definitely do least favorite. Got anyone in mind?

Anonymous said...

Meryl Streep and Ashton Kutcher make me wince!!!!

CrisD said...

Coulda said Clooney!! hahaha

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, I can't disagree, especially about Kutcher. He needs a shower and shave and then he needs a real job. Ug.

AndrewPrice said...

CrisD, Clooney's career really seems to be in a tailspin. I'm 100% certain his politics is the reason for that.

CrisD said...

Sorry-I'm anon by mistake! :)
Yeah, Clooney was ok in that ER soapopera but he has bombed bigtime since.

AndrewPrice said...

CrisD, No problem. :)

What's interesting about Clooney is that he looked like he was headed to being the biggest star in Hollywood for a long time. For a very brief period, he could do no wrong and everybody was ready to declare him the next big thing.

Then he started blasting Republicans and he started taking "political" roles. At this point, I can't think of the last film he's had that's been a hit other than the Ocean franchise? He's really sabotaged his own career.

Floyd R. Turbo said...

Russell Crowe also is great... LA Confidential, Gladiator, Cinderella Man Beautiful Mind (he was robbed! Training Day ?!? what the freak?!?), The Insider... heck I even liked Robin Hood.

AndrewPrice said...

Floyd, I agree! He's an excellent actor and has been in some great films. Don't forget Master and Commander! I also liked him in The Quick and the Dead and in The Insider.

Tennessee Jed said...

Mystery Alaska. The guy had done a lot of great acting, plus has a nice band. Other than occasionally beating up hotel staff, I can't say anything bad about him. (He is hardly the first celebrity to read his press and become too full of himself.)

T-Rav said...

See, I still kinda like George Clooney, as political as he's been. (And, in all fairness, he hasn't been the worst in that regard; if I remember correctly, he did praise Bush for giving aid to Darfur, so that's something, I guess.) That said, I can't think of anything really great he's been in lately; "Up in the Air" was fairly good, but it was a bit overrated, in my opinion.

Russell Crowe is another good one; "Gladiator" will always be my favorite role of his. And while this might sound like heresy, I actually like Leo DiCaprio as well; I hear he's something of a pill in person and that's obviously the case with his politics, but he has had some good movies--especially "Catch Me if You Can" and "Inception."

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, He's largely a-political. In fact, he's apparently a friend of Rick Perry but refuses to endorse him because he says that actor's should not be sharing their political views.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, There are only a couple who have reached a point for me that I can't stand them anymore because of their politics. Matt Damon has reached that level as has Sean Penn. The rest I can tolerate.

The problem with Clooney has largely been that he's trying to make overtly political films like Syriana or The Men Who Stare At Goats and is ignoring the fact that the story needs to come first. Plus, a lot of what he's doing lately just isn't very good, even when it isn't political.

rlaWTX said...

(Cary Grant for all time favorite)
Now that that is out of my system: I really like Crowe and Jackman and Bale. Depp gives me creeps,or maybe the pirate creeps me - nope, it's Depp AND the pirate! I think the last thing I saw with Depp that I liked him in was "From Hell" (Jack the Ripper movie)
I love Bruce Willis. Robert Duvall is awesome, but he's one I run across by accident as opposed to seeking out.
I like Aaron Eckart? (who became Two-face and was in Battle LA) I even liked him that dumb scifi movie with Hillary Swank (who I do NOT like at all).

but these days my favorite, "he's on I gotta watch it" actor is Jason Statham. Except for Crank 2. Even he couldn't get me past the first 10 minutes of that trash - and I enjoyed the 1st one... sad, I know. I have such plebeian movie tastes, I'm surprised you let me post! :)

(and The Others was a cool movie - didn't see the twist coming at all. And Kidman was perfect for it.)

rlaWTX said...

I also love Matthew McConaughey. But he is inconsistent in his role choices.
Brad Pitt is another interesting one. I HATEDHATED Burn after Reading. But I want to see Moneyball.

And I lost the thread - who is a friend of Perry's?

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, Russell Crowe is Perry's friend.

I love Statham and I've enjoyed almost all of his movies -- I agree about Crank 2, though Crank was really entertaining!

As for having plebian tastes, we don't judge people's tastes here! :)

I agree 100% about Swank -- I can't stand her. I did enjoy The Core primarily because I like Lindo, Eckhart and Stanley Tucci!

Matthew McConaughey is a guy who has never lived up to his potential in my opinion. He's likable and a good enough actor to play almost anything, and even be brilliant in the right roles... but he just doesn't seem to pick good movies.

I didn't see the twist in The Others coming either. I thought it was stunning.

AndrewPrice said...

FYI, my next article at BH has apparently just posted. It's a review of Pontypool.


Here's the link: LINK

rlaWTX said...

(thank you for not judging...)

AndrewPrice said...

LOL! You're welcome! :)

tryanmax said...

FYI, I came late so I've skipped all of the comments.

The definition acting that I subscribe to is this: "Acting is not doing what you would do in a certain situation. It is not doing what the character would do in that situation. Acting is doing what you would do if you were the character in that situation."

A bit convoluted, I know, but I like the distinction between the three possibilities. And, of course, that's the method I subscribe to. To that end, I prefer actors that are able to inject themselves into the character without replacing the character.

My favorite actors are mainly character actors: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Steve Buscemi, Christopher Walken, Kristin Wiig, Jonah Hill. Also, despite playing many leads, I think Brad Pitt possesses all the qualities of a character actor.

EricP said...

So many great roles (Sid and Nancy, JFK, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, Book of Eli, etc. and on and on) from not only fave actor but the man I consider the greatest of his generation, but Gary Oldman in True Romance = genius. Also like his guest-spots on Friends and Greg the Bunny where he has a little self-deprecating fun.

Re. DeNiro, not sure exactly what he’s done or said to irk conservatives, but very impressed with the Fox Football spots he did for the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Incredibly respectful.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That's an interesting twist on the discussions we've had about the difference between actors who disappear into roles and actors who play themselves. I think both types can be successful, but I think the best actors actually need to be a master of both -- being able to make you want to see them rather than seeing the role, but then making you forget you're seeing an actor when you get there. Johnny Depp is a guy who I think can do that extremely well.

AndrewPrice said...

Eric, Gary Oldman is awesome! My favorite role of his is still Zorg in Fifth Element, but he's never disappointed.

I've heard DeNiro say a couple nasty things, but not enough and not publicly enough that I took much notice of it. But I know that other conservatives really hate him now. Personally, he strikes me as one of the more private actors.

tryanmax said...

The more I think about it, the more actors come to mind that fit that criteria, and they are mainly big names. (Of course, they ought to be.)

Most of the names offered up here fit the criteria. Willis, Depp, Oldman, etc.

I will say that I think Nicholas Cage does not fit that criteria. He's a good actor, but he's always Nick Cage doing what Nick Cage does. To be fair, the great Carey Grant acted in similar fashion, so it is no insult.

Any approach works well when there is talent behind it.

AndrewPrice said...

I agree. Cage is a guy who plays himself and only himself -- much like Tom Cruise or John Wayne. I'm not saying that's a bad thing as they can be very good at it and highly successful. But they do only give you themselves in role after role.

For me, the test is when you think of their films, do you think of the character names or the actor names?

tryanmax said...

That's a good test that I think I've unconsciously used ever since I got into acting/actors. When I first put my 2¢ in, I was having trouble naming all the actors I wanted to because I kept getting stuck on the names of characters they've played.

I think Cruise needs credit for branching out lately. I'm thinking mainly of Les Grossman because I watched Tropic Thunder over the weekend, but that is a good example of thinking of the character before the actor.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I think it is a good test and I think it works nicely. In fact, I ran into a couple surprises using this test that made sense once I started thinking about them.

For example, I've always considered William Hurt to be an "actor's actor" and thus assumed that he disappeared into the role. But then I realized, I could never name his characters -- just him. And the more I looked at it, the more I realized that he's the snooty-version of Tom Cruise... he plays himself every single time, he just does it in art films.

That's not to say I don't like him -- I do like him very much. But I realized that the idea that he was an "actor's actor" is just PR.

In terms of Cruise, I agree that he did a great job as Les, but I would want to see more than one small part (in which he was also heavily made-up and in a costume) before I give him props for being able to play roles other than himself.

tryanmax said...

I'm not ready to reclassify Cruise after one role, either. But I think that he knows he can't go on being just Tom Cruise forever.

I think his performance in Rock of Ages might give us some idea of what to expect in terms of the likelihood of a post-Tom-Cruise Tom Cruise.

AndrewPrice said...

It will be interesting to see what happens when we get to post-Tom Cruise Tom Cruise. I don't doubt he can adapt, because he has been a very successful person. I just don't know which direction he will head. In most cases, I think actor tend to play themselves more as they get older. But in his case, he can't really do that because he will get too old to play the young action hero much longer.

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