Tuesday, July 05, 2005

And the Winner Is…

The boys and I were talking in the office the other day about male film actors (regrettably there are no “girls” in our office, a situation that needs some serious looking into). The subject was: name the greatest male movie actor of this generation. An interesting question to consider. The person who introduced this topic offered Tom Hanks as a strong contender, citing his back-to-back Oscar wins for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, and a near miss for his work in Apollo 13. Not a bad choice. I countered that, yes, Tom Hanks is very good, but it was the quality of the roles he got that gave him the boost he needed. In other words, I felt there were other actors out there equally capable of acing those roles — and perhaps bettering Tom Hanks’ efforts. I was challenged to give an example and I did so with very little deliberation, but I will save my choice for later.

Then we started defining our terms. I thought “greatest” and “of this generation” were a bit vague. What, in a film actor, denotes greatness? That’s not as easy to pin down as it first appears. I think a great actor can be judged great only after looking at his body of work, the range of roles undertaken (and the strong likelihood that no one could have outperformed him in any of them), consistent top billing, the probability that he will continue his winning ways and become even more accomplished, and if he possesses a God-given, indefinable something — “duende,” let’s say — that makes him special, that sets him apart. Admittedly, my personal characterization of greatness may still be rather vague, but I think it’s a good working definition.

The actor who immediately leaps to my mind is Marlon Brando. In his prime, Brando could own any role, no matter how far flung, and he was never afraid to try anything. We all know his excellent work in A Street Named Desire, On the Waterfront, The Godfather, and Apocalypse Now, but how about the foppish Englishman Fletcher Christian in Mutiny on the Bounty, or the singing role of Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls, or the Okinawan Sakini in The Teahouse of the August Moon? He pulled them all off brilliantly (and by the way, it’s true: Brando really could sing). There, ladies and gentlemen, was a great movie actor. Not of this generation, of course, but Marlon Brando stands as a terrific benchmark.

And yet, as I mentioned, I wasn’t satisfied with “of this generation.” Far better, it seems to me, to put it as “still relevant,” because “of this generation” might ignore the magnificence of Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro, Gene Hackman, or Dustin Hoffman, who are, I submit, still relevant, but getting on in years, so possibly not “of this generation.” And what do I mean by “still relevant”? Hmm. I think I mainly mean an actor who can recommend a movie to you by the sheer force of his presence. For instance, if Jack Nicholson is in a movie, I’m automatically interested in seeing it, and only the most scathing reviews of a hundred critics can stop me. However, it must be quickly pointed out that “still relevant” can never be the only yardstick to go by, because then we would have the likes of Bruce Willis, Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, et al., as contenders for greatness, when they are, in my humble opinion, merely wonderful at playing the same captivating character over and over again. They are very successful movie stars, but probably not great film actors.

So who do we consider? How about Brad Pitt? It’s hard to imagine anybody better than him in Fight Club and I loved him in Seven Years in Tibet. Johnny Depp? Absolutely right up there. He approaches the Brando mold, I think. He’s marvelous at “affected” characters, like Edward Scissorhands, Captain Jack Sparrow, Raoul Duke/Hunter S. Thompson, James Barrie, Ed Wood, Constable Ichabod Crane, and so on. Then, of course, there’s Jack Nicholson, who has shown he can still bring on the heat in About Schmidt and As Good As It Gets. Naturally, there are a host of others: Daniel Day Lewis, Denzel Washington, Ewan Mcgregor, Morgan Freeman, Adrien Brody, Samuel L. Jackson, and on and on and on.

I’m going to cut to the chase and offer up my dark horse candidate as the greatest male film actor around today. My choice will surprise and astound you, but I stand by it. Like Tom Hanks, he started out as a comedic actor (and still does comedy surpassingly well), but has proven exceedingly capable of handling serious roles with equal aplomb. Indeed, there are movies he’s done that would have had no chance of achieving the same success with any other actor. I think he can take on any role offered him and perform each brilliantly, and I predict that in the coming years we will see more and more of this. And I believe he could have taken the Tom Hanks Oscar-winning roles of Forrest Gump and Andy Beckett and gone to greater heights with them. Are you ready? Are you at the edge of your seats? Can you stand the anticipation? Drum roll please…

Jim Carrey.

That’s right, Jim Carrey. I know, I know: Ace Ventura? Dumb and Dumber? Greatness? It may be a bit difficult to build a case for him, but let me try. First, I believe a good Exhibit A is The Cable Guy, an intelligent, dark comedy that would not have worked — in fact, would have absolutely tanked at the box office — if anyone other than Jim Carrey played the part of The Cable Guy (we never know his real name). I think the same is true of The Mask. I can’t think of a single actor who could approach him playing the role of hapless, sweet Stanley Ipkiss or his outrageous alter-ego. As Fletcher Reede in Liar, Liar, he is untouchable, and the same applies as Bruce Nolan in Bruce Almighty. He also excels in the straight roles: consider The Majestic and, especially, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. And I predict that as he gets older and the comedic roles might become less appealing, he will finally get the role that will earn him an Academy Award. To sum up, he’s got range, earns consistent top billing, takes on roles no other actor could touch, has duende in abundance and relevance coming out of his ears. He’s got “it,” folks. Take it to the bank.

So I’m right, aren’t I? It’s Jim Carrey without any doubt? Or who else? Hmm? Hmm?


Blogger NYPinTA said...

Hmmm... Jim Carrey? Really? Well, he is good, I'll grant you that, but the greatest...? Maybe, but not yet.
I'll stick with Johnny Depp, and not because he is so very very pretty. That man is afraid of nothing! LOL!
And I am partial to Kevin Spacey too. Ever see "Swimming With Sharks"? Cool movie. Man, is he evil!!! (I think that is the name of the movie....)

8:03 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

Don't get me wrong, I like Jim Carrey, but I don't know about the greatest. Now Johnny Depp I would agree with. Very versatile, very pretty. Same thing with Brad Pitt. I'm also a Kevin Spacey fan. The Usual Suspects, American Beauty, Seven, The Ref, etc. - he's just cool. Of course, after seeing Batman Begins, I'm thinking Christian Bale just might be a contender. We'll have to see.

I'm not indecisive. Am I indecisive?

8:15 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

nypinta and trinamick: Whoa! How did I leave Kevin Spacey off the list? Not that he could outgun my man Jim, but there's some serious talent. And I think you both really have an argument with Johnny Depp.

Batman Begins, BTW, is excellent! I'm seeing it again soon.

8:23 AM  
Blogger John said...

I think you're all forgetting the acting powerhouse that is Steven Segal. I was sure that no actor of this, or any generation, could top his riviting portrayal of Casey Ryback in Under Siege, and then Under Siege 2: Dark Territory came out and just moved me to tears.

10:28 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

John, point well taken. I personally think "Hard to Kill" was his finest film. He took his squint up to another level in that one. And don't forget the curled lip. Damn, that's acting!

10:36 AM  
Blogger NYPinTA said...

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11:29 AM  
Blogger NYPinTA said...

Christian Bale was the best thing in "Reign of Fire". Well, him and the dragon that ate Matthew McConaughey.

11:30 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

Ooh, Matthew McConaughey. BIG fan of that. Ever seen Frantic? I'd say he's a versatile actor. Who am I kidding? Like I care about his acting ability.

12:28 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Oh boy! Let me tell you something about Matthew McConaughey: when my kids were smaller, we used to watch the Kids' Choice Awards every year on Nickelodeon. One time, Matthew McConaughey was supposed to present Sandra Bullock with an award(they had jsut finished a movie together), but he wouldn't let her get going on her acceptance speech because he kept butting in to be "funny" and acting as if he might have had a mint julep or two off-stage. Finally, she just said "thank you" to the audience and left the stage looking very miffed while McConaughey held his hands up as if to say, "women!" Ever since then I've hated the guy. I think of him as some dumb cracker who's good looking and can memorize a few lines of script. But hell, besides that, I think he's a veritable Lawrence Olivier!

1:02 PM  
Blogger John said...

You can't judge him for that. All that stupid banter at awards shows is scripted. Most of the time they don't even try to hide the fact that they're reading off a telaprompter.

Even so, America's favorite naked bongo player has been in some crappy movies. But for a really good Matthew McConaughey movie, see Frailty. That was a freaky movie.

1:34 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

If that was scripted, then I take it all back — he's a great actor! Because I was convinced he was drunk and obnoxious and probably had the awards show staff feeling a little nervous.

1:45 PM  
Blogger John said...

It was a sobriety malfunction.

2:22 PM  
Blogger Chloe said...

In the still relevant department, you can't exclude Al Pacino...

And as far as this generation is concerned, I'd like to throw Leonardo diCaprio's name into the ring.

3:39 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Thank you, Chloe, you're absolutely right. Al Pacino is definitely still relevant. So relevant, in fact, that teenagers today are wearing "Scarface" t-shirts! He is, without doubt, one of my favorite actors. The movie of his I like best (which no one will agree with) is "Carlito's Way," when he was making the transition from Young Pacino to Old Pacino.

5:55 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Oops, I forgot to comment on Leonardo diCaprio. The role he played that really impressed me was the mentally challenged kid in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape." I liked him a lot in "Catch Me If You Can" and "Gangs of New York." "Titanic" wasn't his fault (I think that should have been a much better movie). So, yeah, he makes the list. My question is: when will he stop looking too young for the roles he plays? I think he'll need his ID to buy alcohol until he's 60.

6:05 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

Oh, and I meant Frailty when I actually wrote Frantic. That was just a dumb attack. As for Sandra Bullock, I think they were dating at the time. Can you imagine what their kids would have looked like?

6:58 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Wow. I would never have guessed they were a couple. She sure looked like she had enough of him that day. I could feel the bad vibes. So is he really a good actor? I haven't seen him in anything except the first 20 minutes of "The Wedding Planner."

BTW, I've started reading a collection of posthumously published Louis L'Amour short stories. The first one was pretty good. The title of the volume is "West of Dodge."

8:32 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

Way to go on the L'Amour books. You won't be disappointed. A couple of his are set in modern day also, but except for The Haunted Mesa I prefer the old time Westerns.

As for McConaughey, he was good in Sahara and A Time to Kill. You might want to check them out too. But Frailty was the freakiest.

10:00 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

I've come to value your judgment, trinamick. I'll probably check "Frailty" out someday.

10:08 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

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12:56 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

When you said Jim Carrey, I almost started, but I thought about the Truman Show, which was fantastically acted. He can be serious and has a great range of emotion.

I think Johnny Depp gets my nod -- edited this last word, it used to say nob, which could be confusing. Brad Pitt is excellent, but he lacks something that puts him into the top echelon. He's got the moves and intensity for action, like in Troy, Fight Club and Snatch (excellent job here), but has he ever broken down and cried or shown any real emotion except battle lust and elation?

Pacino was good in the Merchant of Venice, and a host of others, but the same is true for him, what range of emotion has he really displayed.

Leave Spacey out for my tastes. He's ok, but he doesn't change much from role to role. Loved him in The Ref.

Carrey though, that was a good pick. He has a lot to show us still.

12:59 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Excellent comments, Scott. And I can feel that Johnny Depp momentum surge. But I say, let history be the judge. If actors sold stock on their careers, I'd refinance the house and put it all on my man Carrey. You ain't seen nothing yet!

1:11 PM  
Blogger :phil: said...

Wow, what a list! I would have to agree that Carrey is great, very talented. So is Depp. I like how he takes chances with his roles, I admire that. Also, Spacey is no schlep either. There is also Chris Cooper who was in Sea Biscut, Adaptation and American Beauty. I think he is a chameleon who is under rated.

2:40 PM  
Blogger Chloe said...

And how could I forget John Cusack? He is also underrated, and was fantastic in Identity, among others.

3:48 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Phil: interseting choice of Chris Cooper. I didn't even know his name until you brought him up, and now it occurs to me that I've seen him in everything . . . like how you used to see Harry Dean Stanton in everything. (I think they call them "character actors.")

Chloe: I don't know how I didn't think of John Cusak. I'll never forget him in "Being John Malkovich." What a movie that was!

4:43 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

Cusack is always the same philandering malcontent. He was one of my favorites during the Brat Pack days, but now he stresses me out, waiting for his bubble to burst in the same way as it always does.

7:02 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

People usually don't realize Carrey's talent. Like it's easy to be THAT on all the time.

My personal choice is Leonardo DiCaprio. I usually lose myself in his films.

7:54 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

I agree with you, Chloe. I can't believe I forgot about John Cusack! He's one of my favorite actors. Love the sarcasm and quick wit, but he's great in serious roles as well. Grosse Pointe Blank, Identity, Serendipity - he's pretty well-rounded in the parts he plays.

8:50 AM  
Blogger NYPinTA said...

The only reason I saw Identity was because John Cusack was in it. He's so huggable... which isn't a prerequisite to being a good actor, but it helps. :P

BTW- anyone interested in seeing Matthew McConaughey get eaten by that dragon, Reign of Fire is on tonight. On ABC... I think. Not NBC and not the channel David Letterman is on.... Enjoy.

10:20 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

I gotta admit, bald and dirty McConaughey isn't quite as appealing, but I wouldn't kick him off my doorstep. Unless he was playing the bongos. I hate bongos.

11:15 AM  
Blogger Mona said...

I hear ya' on Jim Carrey. Especially Eternal Sunshine...totally impressed with that one.

I think Tim Robbins, Gary Oldham, Ed Norton, Sam Rockwell, and Doug Hutchinson also deserve some recognition. For that matter, take the ENTIRE cast of Green Mile. And the list can actually go on and on.

So I'll stop here.

For women, let's have Claire Danes, Nicole Kidman (especially after The Hours), Laura Linney, and Joan Allen. I know, I know, you can't forget greats like Meryl Streep...but we have enough room to appreciate them all. This list of course, goes on and on, too.

2:36 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Great, great selections, Mona. I especially like Edward Norton. Can't believe I didn't include him. And, of course, a post should be dedicated to female actors (we used to call them "actresses"). Ever since "Shakespeare in Love," I've been a big Gwenyth Paltrow fan.

So "Reign of Fire" is on tonight? Shall I ramp up the VCR for this one? Will I finally appreciate the dramatic juggernaut that is Matthew McConaughey? Hmmm. . . if only nypinta hadn't given away the fact that he gets eaten…

3:18 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

How could I forget Ed Norton? He is definitely in my top 5. Just brilliant!

5:15 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Yeah, I've liked him in everything, especially "Fight Club" and "The Score."

6:33 AM  
Blogger Mona said...

I have to ditto the Gwenyth Paltrow comment...YES, after Shakespeare in Love. I thought I was the only one who thought that!

8:34 AM  
Blogger NYPinTA said...

" if only nypinta hadn't given away the fact that he gets eaten… "

oops. LOL.
Doesn't matter. They switched it with Cody Banks.

10:30 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

I'll get my chances.

1:29 PM  
Blogger NYPinTA said...

BTW- did we forget Sean Penn?

7:11 AM  

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