Sunday, June 11, 2006

Favorite Actors

I was watching American History X yesterday, and was reminded of what a great performance Edward Norton gave in that. And that got me thinking about my favorite actors, so I figured as an exercise I would try to make a list of my favorites. So I perused a few websites with people talking about the subject, and created a list of contenders, and looked through at their movies and which I liked the most, and came up with this list. Note, these are just my favorites. I don't presume to suggest this is a "greatest actors ever" or even "greatest actors alive," just those that have brought me most the enjoyment, as I watch more newer movies than older movies. I'll come back with actresses later, although I anticipate that will be more difficult for me. I'm interested in your thoughts, and here they are in alphabetical order along with my favorite four or five films they have done:

Robert DeNiro (Bronx Tale, Goodfellas, Once Upon a Time in America, Taxi Driver, Godfather Part II). A frequent debate seems to be between DeNiro and Pacino, and the criticism of Pacino is that he plays the same character every time and goes over the top too much. DeNiro is more subtle. But the interesting thing looking through his movies is that almost all my favorite DeNiro movies are gangster films. That isn't the case with Pacino. That said, DeNiro plays very different roles in many of them. Bronx Tale and Once Upon a Time in America don't get as much credit as some films in the genre, but they are two of my very favorites. DeNiro's father character in the former really drives the emotional story as his lessons are always present in your mind as the son makes mistakes. And Once Upon a Time in America is almost the opposite, with the Noodles character the center of the story, but the supporting characters being the ones that linger with you. DeNiro was given an almost impossible task of playing the younger version of Marlon Brando's Vito Corleone, and he pulled it off. And of course Travis Bickle will remain DeNiro's most famous character if not his best performance as well.

Tom Hanks (Saving Private Ryan, Forrest Gump, Philadelphia, Splash). Hanks' everyman persona is contrasted by his desire to play all sorts of different roles on film, and you believe him as so many different characters. It's a shame it took him a while to get better roles, because he could have done a great job in the 80s if he had been given more A scripts. His performance in Philadelphia was one of the most sympathetic and yet unyielding portrayals of someone with AIDS, and it made the movie. Some people criticize Forrest Gump (usually to pump up the equally great Pulp Fiction and/or Shawshank Redemption), but I think it stands up very well as a wonderful film. And there is no movie without Hanks. It's hard to imagine anyone else pulling that role off like he did. I also think some of the best is still to come with Hanks, who remains on top of his game.

Edward Norton (25th Hour, Fight Club, American History X, Primal Fear). Clearly, Norton is the least accomplished on my list as far as resume. Thus, my preface of "favorites" above "best." I'm not trying to argue Norton over Humphrey Bogart or anything like that. But Norton has pulled off some of the most incredible acting jobs I have ever seen. He is mesmerizing. His character in Primal Fear was amazing. Without Norton, that film is a weak B movie. With him, it's a great thriller. And then he went in a totally different direction with American History X, and managed to create a sympathetic character out of a guy who we initially see as a hateful white supremacist with a swastika on his chest, without condoning in the least his earlier behavior. Then he goes in a totally different direction with another surprising turn in Fight Club, where he steals the movie from Brad Pitt even though Pitt is given the more seemingly sexy role. And as I've mentioned once before here, I love 25th Hour. It's a really touching film, and Norton once again delivers with a more subtle but touching performance. I think so highly of Norton's acting.

Al Pacino (Angels in America, Carlito’s Way, Scarface, Dog Day Afternoon, Godfather Trilogy). Yeah, Pacino is a ham. But I enjoy the hell out of seeing Pacino act like the ham. I have never watched a Pacino movie where I got sick of his screaming. It's just fun. And there are a lot of other great Pacino performances that got left off my list above, such as his tired, weary, compromised detective in Insomnia or the blind Mr. Hoo Ha in A Scent of a Woman. I liked his performances in all three Godfather films, the third of which I think is a lot better than people give it credit for. He changes in each of the films as well, although obviously the change from the first to the second is more pronounced. Scarface is just a fun film. It knows what it is, and it accepts it and runs with it. Pacino's turn in Angels in America is a great one, and in a movie/miniseries with so many great actors and actresses, he stands out once again.

Denzel Washington (Training Day, He Got Game, Malcolm X, Glory). Denzel, like Hanks and Pacino, predisposes me to like whatever film he is in. If I don't end up liking the film, it's probably because of something about the story (Remember the Titans - way too soft and corny) or the other characters. Denzel always turns in a good performance, even in the many B films that he chooses. Malcolm X is unquestionably his greatest performance, and he will never top it. It's one of the best acting performances ever, and he should have gotten his Oscar for that. His character in Glory was the most memorable. He Got Game was a nice switch from his earlier performances, as he played a weaker character. Training Day showed he could be just as much fun playing the villain rather overtly. Unlike some of the other actors, I don't really have a desire to see Denzel get older on the screen, but we'll see what he can do with that switch.


Blogger Houston Mitchell said...

I agree with Hanks and Washington, and throw Morgan Freeman and Russell Crowe into the mix.

7:36 PM  
Blogger Todd Martin said...

They both made the final list of 14 or so.

7:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like all those actors as well, but I'd put Kevin Spacey up there with any of them. He's had a TON of great performances (The Usual Suspects, American Beauty, L.A. Confidential, Glengarry Glen Ross). Not that I disagree with any of your picks, but Spacey is definitely in that league.

6:59 PM  
Blogger AdamAnnapolis said...

I think Jack Nicholson's early 70s work (Five Easy Pieces, Carnal Knowledge, The Last Detail, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) is some of the greatest acting ever done.

That era was great, simply because the filmmakers were much more daring, and Pacino, De Niro, Nicholson, Hoffman, and Hackman were all at their best. You almost can't go wrong watching any movie these men were in from that decade.


10:26 AM  
Anonymous Paul Head said...

Hey Todd, It's Paul from AZ. Just sifting through some of your in the hell do you have the time to do all this and go to law school in westwood - regardless if it is the summer. wel, it is 115 here now so i can't be outside. liked the way ecw is handled so far but don't love it, keep waiting for a big screw up - cena is becoming such a stronger character with tremendous promos, but i always knew he could talk, been waiting for foley v flair forever, but the angle and quick build have ruined it. like flair rhodes - which could work again in a 1 shot deal, foley and flair need a logical angle with about 2 months of promos and face off's(no touching) tfor the right build. dx was anticlimactic and although i'm not a fan of Paul's ass, that was probably the best part. but like ecw, dx needs to change. we'll see if either really does, or if it matters one way or the other.
ohhhh sorry for the wrestling talk here.. ok actors
my complaint - Hanks, never liked him, too bland for me although his performance in Road to Perdition was really exceptional I think.
DeNiro and Pacino for their sit down conversation in Heat alone.
joaquin Phoenix just for Walk the Line - He didn't look like Cash, he didn't sound like Cash, he just WAS Johnny Cash.
And your biggest omission, Johnny Depp. No one has taken the chances this guy has, at times he fails, most times he succeeds just for trying and a few performances, Finding Neverland, Edward Sissorhands, Ed Wood, and Pirates were all exceptional.
Take care Todd

4:49 PM  
Blogger Todd Martin said...

Nice to hear from you, Paul.

You wait for big ECW screw up is over. I really liked Phoenix in Walk the Line as well. He hasn't quite done enough yet though. Johnny Depp I actually don't like as much as some. He definitely take chances and some of them work really well. But I do tend to prefer dramatic actors, and he doesn't have one defining dramatic performance, at least in my mind.

5:05 PM  
Blogger AdamAnnapolis said...

Excellent point about Depp. I never had thought about it like that, but he really doesn't have a defining dramatic role as of yet. He is daring as hell with his choices, and always delivers, but he doesn't have any characters that stand out...

Gary Oldman is special for his versatility. The guy has played everyone from Sid Vicious to Beethoven to Lee Harvey Oswald.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is someone I always get a kick out of (apparently, in a Cena-like moment at a test screening of MI:3, the audience cheered everything Hoffman's villain did, rather than L. Tom Cruisard's good guy antics.


3:16 PM  

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