14 actors I really dig

18 Jan

There’s a bit of a meme going on in Swedish film blogging circles. The idea is simple: list your seven favorite male and female actors. I’m participating too, although loosely. I’m not saying these are my very favorites, as that tends to change from day to day and I might have forgotten someone. These are, however, seven men and seven women whose work I really enjoy, either because they constantly deliver great performances, or because they possess some hard-to-define quality that makes my brain happily go “ding!” whenever I spot their names on a cast list.

First, some honorable mentions…

Kevin Spacey: Had I written this post 10 years ago, he’d be a shoo-in for sure. Alas, he hasn’t had many truly great roles lately.
Kirsten Dunst: She has been underrated ever since she lit up the screen in Interview with the Vampire in 1994, and only recently has she started getting the critical acclaim she deserves.
Al Pacino: Another one whose heyday is behind him, Pacino has tons of maniacally energetic performances on his CV.
Rosario Dawson: Effortlessly charming, possibly the hottest woman on this planet, and probably with her best work still ahead of her.
Jason Statham: The bona fide action star of the millennium.
Ellen Page: At 25 years of age, she has already amassed a number of impressive lead and supporting roles. What does the future hold for her?

On to the list proper. This is in randomly generated order.

MV5BMTMzODkzOTU4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzU0ODE5NA@@._V1._SX640_SY920_Catherine Keener

When I watch Keener play one of her evil characters, I can not imagine here ever being good. When I watch her play one of her good characters, I can not imagine her ever being evil. Her impressive range is perhaps her strongest quality and she has proven to only get better with age. When she got her first Oscar nomination for playing manipulative seductress Maxine in Being John Malkovich, she was already 40 years old. Since then – and before – she has kept putting in affecting performances no matter how small or large a part she plays.

3 great performances
Living in Oblivion – pulling off the difficult task of acting like you’re acting, both badly and well.
Being John Malkovich – toying with John Cusack with equal measures of bitchy and funny.
An American Crime – playing one of the most despicable abusive mothers in recent history.

Anthony_Hopkins_0001Anthony Hopkins

While there is a lot to be said for physical transformations and chameleon actors who are nigh-unrecognizable from one film to the next, perhaps even more impressive is someone like Hopkins. He always looks more or less the same, and yet he disappears into roles like few others. A master of mannerisms, body language, and voice, Hopkins portrays clearly defined characters utterly convincingly. Never one to turn down a paycheck, he appears in many films that might not make full use of his talents, but you will never see him slumming it or sleep-walking through a role. Hopkins always delivers.

3 great performances
The Silence of the Lambs – somehow making a mere 16 minutes of screen time into the one thing people associate the film with.
The Remains of the Day – redefining “emotionally restrained”.
The World’s Fastest Indian – completely inhabiting a man jovially dead-set on accomplishing his dream.

1333574762_ryan-gosling-articleRyan Gosling

One of the great joys in this world is the fact that Ryan Gosling is only 32 years old. He could potentially keep churning out awesome work for over 50 more years. If he wants to, that is. There were rumblings a while ago about how he was considering retiring early. I hope not, but even if he does, he has already amasses an impressive filmography with some of the best performances by a young actor this millennium, with particularly impressive versatility. 2011 was his banner year. 2012 saw no new releases from him. Time will tell what 2013 brings. He’s set to appear in new films by Derek Cianfrance, Nicolas Winding Refn, and Terrence Malick. Sounds promising.

3 great performances
Lars and the Real Girl – making me emotionally invested in a sex doll.
Blue Valentine – portraying one half of one of the most devastating marriage quarrels ever.
Drive – showing great economy as an actor: doing everything while doing nothing.

emmathompsonEmma Thompson

Speaking of great joys: there are so many highly acclaimed films starring Emma Thompson that I haven’t even seen yet. Not that Oscars have a strict connection to quality, but of her four nominated performances, I’ve seen only one, for instance. I almost feel unqualified to talk about her. While tons of greatness no doubt lies ahead of me, what I have watched already is enough to easily secure her a spot on this list. She can do heavy drama, heart-wrenching romance, dry English comedy, and anything in between. Thompson is an actress of great gravitas.

3 great performances
The Remains of the Day – longing and striving heroically.
Wit – making self-reflecting during sickness more fascinating than ever.
Stranger than Fiction – playing against type as a neurotic and high-strung author.

tilda_swinton_11Tilda Swinton

While all actors named here are amazing, Swinton is the one who could truly be said to be one-of-a-kind. She has the talent to play anything, but there are certain parts only she could play – you couldn’t imagine a more fitting White Witch for The Chronicles of Narnia than her, for instance. Whether she’s doing big Hollywood productions or smaller indie fare, Swinton always shines in her own special way.

3 great performances
Thumbsucker – eschewing flashiness to craft a believable character.
Michael Clayton – giving us one hell of an attention-grabbing opening scene.
Julia – drinking, fucking, kidnapping, not giving a fuck.

Bill Murray arrives for the Opening Ceremony and screening of 'Moonrise Kingdom' during the 65th Cannes International Film Festival, at the Palais des Festivals in CannesBill Murray

Murray has always been a comedic genius, but it’s interesting how his talent for humor has transformed with time. In earlier days, he specialized in playing snarky loudmouths. Nowadays, he’s all about subtlety. He can say more with a blank stare than most comedians can with entire monologues. This has come through exploration of more serious comedies like Lost in Translation and Broken Flowers. That said, you never know what to expect from Murray. There is a mystique surrounding everything he does, and he’s all the cooler for it. While this list is in random order, I can still tell you that Bill Murray is my very favorite actor out there.

3 great performances
Groundhog Day – doing one of the funniest moral growths ever.
Kingpin – celebrating his bowling skills like no one else.
Lost in Translation – personifying the concept of a mid-life crisis while extremely carefully allowing humor to shine through.

Skärmavbild 2013-01-18 kl. 20.09.24Nicolas Cage

Nobody does crazy like Nicolas Cage. He doesn’t just chew on the scenery; he ravishes it. Or, as Roger Ebert put it in his review of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans: “He doesn’t care if you think he goes over the top. If a film calls for it, he will crawl to the top hand over hand with bleeding fingernails.” Don’t think for a moment that he’s nothing but flashy overacting, though; there is real depth and humanity in many of his performances, often concealed under the mouth-frothing and bug eyes. He’s certainly not above making stinkers every now and then, but it’s worth it for the times when he truly does knock it out of the park.

3 great performances
Vampire’s Kiss – offering the purest form of the bat shit insanity he’s known for.
Leaving Las Vegas – mixing crazy with alcohol to heart-breaking effects.
Adaptation – doing a double role, because giving just one career-best performance in this film wasn’t enough.

Kate Winslet 11Kate Winslet

Next to perhaps Meryl Streep, is there any female actor working today who has received as many awards, nominations and critical praise as Winslet? Perhaps we don’t even need the gender qualifier in that last sentence. Yet another actor on this list with great versatility, she nevertheless shines brightest when playing characters cracking under pressure of some kind, be it emotional, physical, or mental.

3 great performances
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – turning the Manic Pixie Dream Girl stock character on its head.
The Reader – almost making unthinkable cruelty seem reasonable.
Revolutionary Road – stoically falling apart while watching her marriage do the same.

marrisa-tomei-5Marisa Tomei

Much like Catherine Keener earlier, Tomei is a prime example of an actor who only gets better as time goes by. Ever since her surprise Oscar win for My Cousin Vinny, she has just kept improving and growing into more complex and fascinating characters. Tomei is fearless, charming, and always a welcome presence in any film.

3 great performances
My Cousin Vinny – making the entire movie sparkle.
In the Bedroom – running the gamut of emotions.
The Wrestler – breathing new life into the hooker stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold character, perfectly complementing the Mickey Rourke in the lead.

topugly_02_paulgiamattiPaul Giamatti

Hollywood’s go-to guy for when in need of a grumpy, angry, miserable or misanthropic supporting character. Giamatti is capable of playing these roles for both drama and comedy – though he shines more in the latter – either inspiring us to root for him or inviting us to laugh at him. Tailor-made for sarcasm and exasperation, no film is ever worse off for having him on the cast list.

3 great performances
American Splendor – seeming just right while sharing the screen with the real life person he’s playing.
Sideways – making wine seem so interesting and life so hard.
Shoot ‘Em Up – stealing the show acting-wise as an unlikely hen-pecked action movie bad guy.

936full-emily-mortimerEmily Mortimer

Here’s a fun fact: I had no idea Mortimer was English until I saw her in Harry Brown and thought “What’s she doing here, and why is her British accent so good?”. I thought she was American, because that’s all I had seen her as up to that point. Accents are far from everything when it comes to great acting, of course, but Mortimer has all the tools you need in an actor. She currently has a prominent role in HBO’s The Newsroom. Time will tell if and when she returns to the big screen.

3 great performances
Lars and the Real Girl – having one hell of a justified, heart-felt and convincing call-out scene.
Transsiberian – unfolding hidden strengths of her character throughout an unpredictable thriller.
City Island – supporting, supporting, supporting.

2006-3788HoffmanPhilipSeymour_IMG_x900Philip Seymour Hoffman

He may not have typical movie star looks, but his abilities as an actor are more impressive than most of his contemporaries. He is great at evoking sympathy, whether as a sad-sack loner or as a man stuck in tough situations out of his control, but he can also play antagonists of both hot-headed (Punch-Drunk Love) and cold-blooded (Mission Impossible III) varieties. Imagine how easily a guy like PSH could have been typecast his whole career. It’s a testament to his skills that he keeps showing new extremes of his range.

3 great performances
Happiness – being utterly revolting, yet strangely human.
Doubt – finding just the right level of ambiguity in a film that would keel over and die without it.
Jack Goes Boating – providing an interesting modern take on a classic character type.

Skärmavbild 2013-01-18 kl. 20.20.12Maggie Gyllenhaal

Remember how I talked about hard-to-define qualities at the beginning of this blog post? That’s what Maggie Gyllenhaal is all about. She has “it”, whatever “it” is. Few actors can spark my immediate interest in a film by name alone like Gyllenhaal can. She is an unfortunate case in terms of fame, however. By far her most widely seen performance was in The Dark Knight, and that was a role that didn’t play to her strengths. As Rachel Dawes, she came off as too smiley and up-beat, an ill fit for the movie’s dark tone. She was miscast. It might have torpedoed her shot of big mainstream popularity – at least for now – but she has at least kept putting in terrific work in smaller films. A brave and radiant actor if ever there was one.

3 great performances
Secretary – hurting, longing, wanting, loving.
Sherrybaby – Suffering for the sake of her child, not groundbreakingly but intensely.
Crazy Heart – making room for another great performance in a film tailor-made for just one.

Morgan-FreemanMorgan Freeman

No actor is more taken for granted than Morgan Freeman. Always awesome, always acknowledged as such, yet seemingly rarely mentioned in talks of the best actors working today. There’s no better option for when you want a wise mentor character or a narrator in a film, and his soft-yet-firm voice tends to be the one quality of his that’s singled out when he’s brough up in discussion. Obviously, he deserves to be recognized for so much more than that. He can go dark when he needs to. He can be the bad guy. He can be the president of the United States, or even God. He can do anything you need from him. He’s Morgan fucking Freeman. Don’t you forget him.

3 great performances
The Shawshank Redemption – narrating like the pro he is, and dropping that awesome “rehabilitated” monologue towards the end.
Seven – setting a new bench-mark for old tired detectives in movies.
Million Dollar Baby – bantering with Clint Eastwood about socks, like they’ve known each other all their lives.


Posted by on 18 January, 2013 in Misc.


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4 responses to “14 actors I really dig

  1. ilovethatfilm

    22 January, 2013 at 16:38

    Great selection. I can’t personally stand Nic Cage but he was brilliant in Bad Lieutenant!

    • Emil

      22 January, 2013 at 17:44

      He was, aye. I hope he and Herzog work together again, though I heard somewhere that Cage didn’t like the director much. Unfortunate.

  2. Alex Withrow

    22 January, 2013 at 21:58

    I seriously love every actor you mentioned here. I also appreciate how you didn’t shy away from embracing Cage’s batshit craziness.

    • Emil

      23 January, 2013 at 07:24

      The world is a much happier place once you do embrace the Cage Craze!


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