Top 5 Living Actors — Top 5 Tuesday
Celebrating the men of cinema.
Welcome again to yet another Top 5 Tuesday, the weekly series where I make lists about my top fives in the movie industry. Pretty self-explanatory stuff, I’d say.
Why did I choose the top five living actors? Mostly to make it easier for myself while also being an effort to keep it more contemporary and appealing for a modern audience. The trailers attached below each selection indicates my favourite movie/performance by them. Like any top five you may disagree and I encourage you to tell me in the comments below! Let’s get on with this.
5: Nicolas Cage
There’s no better way to explain why Cage–who pumps out a lot of garbage these days–remains in the top five than to quote the late (and great) Roger Ebert in his review for Knowing, “Cage has two speeds, intense and intenser. I like both speeds. I find him an intriguing actor because he takes chances. He’s an actor without speed limits. You want an Elvis who parachutes into Vegas? A weatherman whose viewers throw fast food at him? An explorer of the national treasures buried far beneath Washington? He’s your go-to guy.”
I happen to agree with this and the first sentence of that quote is one that I often resort to when conversing about Cage. Sometimes I watch him work strictly for a pay cheque and I wonder why he would do that to himself, but then I watch a movie like Mandy or, most recently, Willy’s Wonderland and I realize that when the dude is on he’s on. It doesn’t have to be a demanding role in order for him to be effective; he just has to care.
While I believe Knowing is the best movie that he has starred in, I chose Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans because it is him at his most intense. Also, make sure to check out this top five that I made about his best movies since 2010.
4: Brad Pitt
Pitt is perfectly capable of giving a powerhouse and emotional performance, as he has throughout his career, but these days I love seeing him as a confident, cool, charming character. But regardless of the type of role he opts into, he’s undeniably one of the best parts of any movie he’s featured in.
Need some proof? Fight Club, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Mr. and Mrs. Smith (he was charming), Inglourious Basterds, The Curious Cage of Benjamin Button, Se7en, Snatch, 12 Monkeys, Kalifornia, Ocean’s Eleven, Burn After Reading–do you get the point? No? In 2019 he gave a great and understated performance in Ad Astra, and he was easily the best part of that turd Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (uh oh).
I remember years ago having an argument with a random in a chat room about how I feel that Brad Pitt is a legitimately great actor. Her response was that I have a “liberal usage of the word ‘great’.” Well, who has the website now, random person in a random chat room?
Pitt is a legend that I often forget about until I see him in something and I’m reminded how wonderful he almost always is.
3: Tom Hardy
Compared to the other actors on this list, Hardy is the new kid on the block. Now, he’s been in feature films for two decades now, but that’s practically a baby isn’t it? Even still, he has proven he can do anything, especially with his facial expressions. He can be sympathetic but then on a dime turn and be intimidating. He can do humour, he can play two characters in the same movie, he can get his point across with nary a word and he can outdo Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie that Leo finally won an Oscar for.
I linked to a trailer for The Drop because a) it’s an underrated flick that I adore and b) his mannerisms are very Rocky-esque and it’s an overlooked performance in a filmography that is already great. There are more bombastic roles but for my money, this is still his best.
2: Christian Bale
Bale is a guy who has had a long and storied career, but for my money it’s when we hit the 2000s that he really kicked it up a notch. Maybe that’s because I became a bigger movie fan during that time period and really started to notice him, but even still, I have loved him since.
Bale is a true method actor, sometimes to the detriment of his physical health. He doesn’t need to do that, but it makes for a good story. But none of that would mean anything if he didn’t back up his practice with excellent acting chops, which he does consistently. It helps that I’m also just a fan of his taste in the movies that he chooses to do.
I don’t know if The Big Short is his best role because he has had more substantial roles, but my lord is he ever entertaining in it. Also, for the record, his Batman voice is not nearly as bad as some people would have you believe. Just sayin’.
1: Denzel Washington
If you’ve read any articles that I’ve written involving Denzel Washington, you may see that I jokingly refer to him as dad. That’s because, as far as I’m concerned, Washington is the father figure in the film industry that we should all have.
But in all seriousness, it’s just because I have a tremendous amount of respect for him as both a performer and a person. He’s been my favourite actor for a very long time now, and even if I’m not interested in the premise of a movie, if I know he’s in it I will likely check it out.
The guy can do anything, although over the last little while I would say he’s more known for his action roles. But that doesn’t mean he can’t still crank out wonderful examples of his acting prowess like Fences. This isn’t even going into the rest of his back catalogue, with films such as Malcolm X.
Washington has this one characteristic that I always wait for. It’s what I refer to as “the Denzel look,” where his face loses all degrees of warmth and transforms into the most intense facial expression I’ve ever seen in cinema. It’s akin to the Kubrick stare, although even more frightening. Washington can be charming, endearing, funny, powerful and profound, but it’s in those moments that I’m the most enchanting by what he’s putting up on the big screen.
He also agrees about Washington, but would like to add Tom Cruise, Ryan Gosling, John Goodman, Michael Shannon, Paul Rudd, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael B. Jordan into the list, because he doesn’t care about the concept of a top five. He also wants to say that if you hand Brendan Gleeson over to either of the McDonagh brothers–Martin or John Michael–then Gleeson is really in his element. I agree with that because he almost got in my own top five based on his performances in In Bruges, The Guard and Calvary–watching him deliver that dialogue is a treat.