Listologists Have Voted: The Ten Best Contemporary Actors!!! (The Results)

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_thanks to russa03, 0dysseus, Rushmore, SA, stumpy, AJDaGreat, JohnnyW, grandpa_chum, lukeprog, Critico, dayfornight, jim, Penny, Oedipus, xfanatic50, professor, wit*chazel, Kza, flfrleta

Jonny Depp
Benicio Del Toro
Steve Buscemi
Philip Seymour Hoffman
John Turturro
Ewan McGregor
Jim Carrey

Original choices. Thanks!!!

Andre Braugher
Don Cheadle
Jamie Foxx
Jeremy Irons
John Malkovich
Tim Robbins
Denzel Washington

Great choices, too. Thanks, 0dysseus!

Taking a moment to proofread will help prevent tyops. Forgive me for being so obsessive but it's "Andre" Braugher. Perhaps it was a Freudian slip because you were thinking of Adrien Brody. Adrien Brody is a fine actor... but he's no Andre Braugher.

Haha, I was certainly thinking of Adrien Brody. Sorry and thanks for the correction!

What a fun idea, 1922! Thanks for doing it. I'm going to think about it for a few days, then post (especially since I don't see my very obvious first choice on either russa03 or 0dysseus' lists). Is there a deadline for this?

Thx. A deadline? Oh well, there must be one. But when? Hmm...let us say, you have time till May, 31. OK?

Jim Carrey
Bill Murray
Jack Nicholson
Ray Romano
Jack Black
Dustin Hoffman
John Cusack

Yeah, thanks, Rushmore!

Ray Romano?

Ray Romano, yeah for his work in everybody loves raymond mostly. sure he hasn't got many feature films under his belt but he is a great actor (IMO) its more of a personal choice, he's more of "My favourite" rather than "The Greatest" but hey it wont matter because he only has 1 vote!

Tom Hanks (does everything equally great)
Dustin Hoffman (ditto)
Jim Carrey (Slapstick and drawn back. Oh my)
Robin Williams (Great comedian, great in drama, and his thriller's aren't that bad either)
Ethan Hawke (Before Sunset anyone? Also, Training Day helps)
Matthew McConaughey (Just watch his performance in "13 Conversations about One Thing")
Kevin Kline (From comedy to serious drama. His charisma is the clincher.)

Tough to narrow it down to seven, but here goes...

1. Chris Cooper
2. Denzel Washington
3. George Clooney
4. Dustin Hoffman
5. Morgan Freeman
6. Nick Nolte
7. Tim Robbins

Gary Oldham, Edward Norton, & Brad Pitt canceled each other out.

If I were to argue for an 8th pick, I'd have to give it to the old man, Paul Newman.

Morgan Freeman
Dustin Hoffman
Anthony Hopkins
Ben Kingsley
Bill Murray
Kevin Spacey (current slump notwithstanding)
Kiefer Sutherland

Close calls: Paul Giamatti, Ed Harris, William H. Macy, Guy Pearce (all of whom are underrated but still not quite at the caliber of my list of seven)

Gary Oldman
Laurence Fishburne
Robert Duvall
Adrien Brody
Benicio Del Toro
Sean Penn
Forest Whitaker

Johnny Waco (signing off, not part of the list...)


And now mine:

Adrien Brody
Johnny Depp
Robert Duvall
Morgan Freeman
Kevin Kline
Christopher Lee (of course :) )
Tim Robbins

some may be old but i assure you at the time i posted they were still living and making movies...
clint eastwood
phillip baker hall
Dustin hoffman
franco nero
alan alda
john c reilly
george clooney

if i were making a movie today that would be my cast.

Yikes, I know nothing. I haven't seen several of these actors in their most recent work, and only really popular names were coming to my mind. I can't wait for the actresses list, though! I like the gals better in this era of filmmaking. Anyhoo:

Johnny Depp
Bill Murray
Denzel Washington
Morgan Freeman
Tom Hanks
Russel Crowe
Edward Norton

Edward Norton

Denzel Washington

Phillip Seymour Hoffman

Joaquin Phoenix

Matt Damon

Don Cheadle

Matt Dillon

Matt Dillon? Matt? Dillon?

Yes to Matt Dillon, in:
Drugstore Cowboy
The Outsiders

Yes i agree with professor, also his performance in There's something about mary is one of the most underrated comic performances i have ever seen.

Now i got here too late, but i wanted to change the Damon vote for Daniel Day Lewis, i made my list too fast and forgot about him, i'm really surprised he didn't get any votes.

Thank you all so much. Now it really begins to get interesting.

Others contribute, we need your voices!

just thought i'd say i love that Bill Murray and Jim Carrey are getting lots of votes! Go team Murray-Carrey!

Yup, I'm especially surprised to see Carrey getting that many votes. But Hoffman is still leading the field, closely followed by Washington and (hurrah!) Freeman.

I really hope to get even more votes so that the race still can get closer.

I'm not sure what definitions people are using for "best" and "actor" (and I really don't want to get into it) but the complete absence of Robert De Niro proves that he has managed to fritter away an enormous fortune in acting talent.

Sure, De Niro is actually the one I had expected to make #1. Now I'm even not sure whether he'll get one single point.

One of my criteria was that the actors in question have to be doing great work now, not necessarily in their past. Looking at the submissions so far, I think most folks are using that criteria.

Well, my criteria was not necessarily that they did anything good recently (though I think all of mine have), but that they didn't screw it up by repeatedly phoning it in for crap films. Hence, no DeNiro. He really was a powerhouse talent, and it's a shame he's marred my opinion of him. He's even shown up as a cartoon parody of his own bloody roles in a Shark's Tale! *Sigh*. Al Pacino I think has made a nice transition, using his age and possibly increased cynicism in roles that require them (I'm thinking of Insomnia).

That's kind of been my criteria as well. I looked at what they've done in the past, sure, but they also should still be making great films. Hence, no DeNiro. If it was an All-Time list, then he would surely be on there (I mean, Raging Bull, Once Upon a Time in America, Taxi Driver, and so on). So they should have made great films in the past as well as present. Not only present of course, since that could mean that person just had a good year.

As for the Jim Carrey suprise, well, he has shown quite some range in the last few years, hasn't he? He can still do the rubber face comedy trick, but also showed great acting skills in "The Truman Show" and "Eternal Sunshine". And with the latter fresh in mind...

Clive Owen. Mark Ruffalo. Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

You still have 4 votes to give, then. If you want to, that means.

Bill Murray
John C. Reilly
Al Pacino
Sir Ian McKellan
Morgan Freeman
Patrick Stewart (if you've seen Safe House you'll see what I mean)
John Turturro

Thanks, BUDDY! :-)

Wow, first vote for Pacino. And Freeman now with Hoffman on #1. Thx!

Okay, it's just not right that Denzel isn't #1. I guess I'm going to have to vote. :-) I'm going to stick with (North?) Americans because its impossible to just do seven from the whole wide world. In alpha order:

Kevin Bacon
Don Cheadle
Johnny Depp
Bill Murray
Edward Norton
Sam Rockwell
Denzel Washington

Yes! another vote for murray!

Yup, now he is one of the leaders.

Thx, Jim. Now we have 4 actors on #1: Hoffman, Freeman, Washington and Murray.
I agree that it is quite difficult to reduce it to only seven actors, but life is hard. :)

Jim Broadbent
Bill Murray
Andre Braugher (might not have remembered him if he hadn’t appeared on Odysseus’ list)
Ian Mckellen
Denzel Washington
Derek Jacobi
Stanley Tucci


Andre Braugher. Greatest television actor ever.

Stanley Tucci. Smooth choice... you always forget that he's an actor. Well, at least I do.

Oh! the glory of acting in Glory and what it did for the career of everyone involved. Braugher can also throw down onscreen... and on the stage.

Braugher? Actually I have never heard that name before (even though I now remember his part in Glory).
"Greatest television actor ever"? Wow, that is very much to say, especially with guys like this one...

Tony Shalhoub is indeed a talented, entertaining actor.

Acting on television is different from acting in movies or plays. I would argue that television acting is more difficult and more impressive than acting onscreen or on the stage. Much more difficult and much more impressive.

Actors in movies get ten months and take after take to give a good performance. Hopefully, when it is done, people will pay to see their performance. Even the busiest of movie actors rarely appear in more than two films in any given year. In a play actors are able to work and re-work a character over a half-dozen times per week to arrive at a good performance. Again it is hoped that people will pay to see their performance and not many stage actors take on more than one production in any given year.

Actors on television have a much tougher standard to meet. The "idiot box" is a piece of furniture in every home. Actors on TV shows are weekly visitors to those homes. If an actor's performance is less than excellent it is so easy to change the channel and watch something else (not to mention rent a movie or go see a play.) It is (relatively) easy for a dislikable actor to keep making movies but it is almost impossible for someone like that to appear on television once let alone week after week. Acting on television is a much more personal experience for an audience than performances seen elsewhere. A television personality has to wear well with people over repeated viewings.

Twenty-six hour-long dramas in a season means over sixteen hours of plot and acting (as well as lighting, music, catering, looping, whatever.) That's the equivalent of nine good-sized movies. Even with a generous 10-day shooting schedule this must all be done within an eight and a half month window. That's a phenomenal amount narrative to get through while trying to insure that new or occasional viewers will always find the show interesting and accessible. There are a few movie series that manage to approach that kind of production. However, once you eliminate the movies that are straight remakes of the original (I'm not just talking about you, 007) done with better special effects and bigger budgets, movies and the actors in them are unable to sustain interest in the characters over that amount of story. They don't even try.

When you think of the hurdles placed in an actor's way over the course of just one season it makes the job that they do just look all the more amazing. Different directors, different writers, small budgets, continual evolution of plot and characters... and it is all at the mercy of the remote. To be able to hold an audience's interest over the course of a season, let alone several seasons, while remaininf=g "true to the character" (whatever that means) is almost impossible and only the most talented actors can pull it off.

So Tony Shalhoub is an excellent actor while Dennis Franz is tremendous and Jimmy Smits is great. But I think that Andre Braugher, from Homicide: Life on the Street to Gideon's Crossing to Hack , is the finest actor I could ever hope to see. Anywhere.

Really an excellent answer, 0dysseus.

These are wonderful views which I have never thought so much about.

Anyway I'll have a look at the series and TV productions you mentioned (starring Braugher) (that means if they'll ever be broadcast here in Europe.

BTW, have you seen Angels in America?

I have not seen Angels in America... much as I love Mike Nichols and much as I absolutely love Meryl Streep and try to see everything that she's been in.

There is a nice piece on David Mamet in the NYTimes. It mentions several fine television (and horrible movie) actors: Dennis Franz, William Petersen and Scott Foley. I'll say this about Mamet, he f***ing knows how to cast actors, g** d*** it. He does give one uncensored perspective:

"Doing a movie or a play is like running a marathon... Doing a television show is like running until you die."

Those are the high points... it's still a nice piece.

I hope you've seen/will see Andre Braugher's work. Start with Homicide: Life on the Street. Start with Season 1 and watch them in order. "Three Men and Adena" will break your heart.

Pembleton: "You want to trust me. I know that. But you're holding back that little bit. Tell me what happened. I'm not going to write it down or anything. I'm going to sit right here. You see no...I have no pen in my hand. Nothing up my sleeve. Please, don't look at me as a cop. Look at me as a friend. Look at me as a friend. Cause that's how I'm looking at you. As a friend. Not as somebody that committed murder. Not as a really vicious person. Because you're not. I think a lot of you. You told me about your drinking and about being an Araber and everything else. I got problems too. Hell, we all got problems. Tell me what happened. I'll believe anything that you say."

I really haven't started watching The Sopranos in any serious way... yet. I say "yet" because it is inescapable. If it features the Stevens Van Zandt and Buscemi as well as Joey Pants I will eventually, inevitably, watch it all.

The final episode (and the operatic frenzy that accompanied it) brought to my mind the differences and relative worth of television versus the movies. And then I read this brilliant deconstruction by the writer of Prisoner of Trebekistan (aka Who is Bob Harris.)

If anyone has ever doubted the merits of serialized television they should put aside their distaste and pretentiousness and consider the auteurship of David Chase. Who is Bob Harris's analysis covers a wide range of topics. Members Only jackets, the colour orange, a da Vinci painting and the band Journey all undergo analysis.

As do onion rings...

I'm still waiting for a better explanation of what's up with three separate Catholic characters using their own mouths like giant CD insertion trays, all three highlighted in separate close-ups, in the weighted final moments before the long-planned climax of an eight-year show. Sure, maybe onion rings are just onion rings. In which case, well, pretty strange onion rings.
Freud might say that, "Sometimes an onion ring is just an onion ring." Freud would be wrong.

Eight years and 86 episodes are the equivalent of over fifty feature-length movies. They might not all be worthy of such in-depth examination but then again, how many movies can stand up to this level of scrutiny?

Who is Bob Harris's review really starts rolling after he finishes with all of the caveat emptors and mea culpas that the explosion in traffic has engendered. It is well worth reading and shows why television is so superior to the movies in so many ways.

And if you were hoping for Sopranos: The Movie? Fuhgedaboudit...

I still would prefer a movie to daily soaps and television. Who is Bob Harris's analysis is downright brilliant. And repulsive. I wonder if anything deserves so much of a dissection. Especially if it's a one hour season finale. (Of course, I've never been a fan of dissection anyhoo). Admitedly it is difficult to consistently deliver every week, for over eight years. And if something like The Sopranos does deliver, it is a commendable feat and cineamtic brilliance.

But for me, movies always shall hold more charm. I don't know if it pretentious of me but movies are more often than not distilled products of hard work and artistic outbursts of over 2 to 3 years condensed into 2 hours. That is more interesting than watching the same cast play the same stories, backed by the same laughter tracks and corny jokes every week.

Excellent link. Thanks.

c'mon! somebody back me up on phillip baker hall and John c reilly... hasn't anyone seen hard eight?

Al Pacino
Robert DeNiro
Johnny Depp
Gary Oldman
Antonio Banderas
Samuel L. Jackson
John Travolta

Thx! And there we have Bob...

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts... is that ouzo I smell?

Let me just take a moment to appreciate how well you've set this list/process up. I'm quite relieved that you avoided one of those open-ended polls where more and more names are added to the list as people lobby for the inclusion of their favorite actor(s). I'm also thankful that, for the most part, there has been very little self-justification/lobbying over why specific choices were made. My head begins to spin with too many "He was good in everything but this while that guy was my second runner-up back up choice for comedic actors...." caveats and conditions. Seven was just the right number (for me) to come up with a distilled list of names. No explanations, threats or promises. I am praying that nobody comes up with a name that makes me start smacking my head in shame and agony... at first it would be mostly from shame but with rising levels of agony.

Speaking of "no explanations" my mental selection process assumed that I was picking actors to perform an unknown role in an unknown movie/show/play. I tried to choose actors who could do both drama and comedy, be either a hero or a villain and play any kind of role from romantic lead to sidekick to bit part.

At the very least this is going to get me to stop saying that, "Jim Carrey is really a better actor than most people think..."

Thx. I mean that nobody needs to justify his/her choices made here. I try to be as neutral as possible. I just add the suggestions to the list as I do/did it here.

Johnny Depp
Sam Rockwell
Bill Murray
Jim Carrey
Jack Black
Steve Buscemi
Chris Cooper

I wanted to put actors like Nicholas Cage or Russell Crowe on this list, but in the end the actors on my list are the ones deserving of attention because they are versatile and take serious risks and no matter what film they're in, good or bad, they manage to portray unique and memorable characters who linger in your mind sometimes longer than anything else about the film. And when they find a film to match their talents they're an absolute joy to watch, which sets them apart from other actors who are only memorable in the right parts and who play the same kinds of roles all the time.

Thx for your choices and for explaining the criteria after which you chose.

Rushmore will be pleased to see that Bill Murray is now the current leader.

Very pleased, he rocks!

These are the best (IMHO):
Matt Dillon (Drugstore Cowboy, The Outsiders, A Kiss Before Dying)
Anthony Hopkins (Magic, Remains Of The Day)
Bruce Willis (Pulp Fiction, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable)
Morgan Freeman
Jim Carrey
Tim Roth
Gary Oldman

Originally I had Robert De Niro on this list, but not on current form.

However, these are my favourites:
Matt Dillon (Drugstore Cowboy, The Outsiders, A Kiss Before Dying)
Anthony Hopkins (Magic, Remains Of The Day)
Robert De Niro (Taxi Driver, Heat)
Hugh Grant (Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral) - no other votes ?
Jimmy Smits (NYPD Blue)
Bruce Willis (Pulp Fiction, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable)
Brad Pitt (Legends of the Fall, Fight Club, Troy, Twelve Monkeys)

A close-run thing:
Andre Braugher (Homicide: Life On The Street)
Clive Owen (Chancer)

Thx, professor. I've taken the best in your opinion, and not your favourites. OK? Well, if not, just tell me, and I'll change it.

No. You are quite right. That is why I made two lists, because my favourites are different to (my opinion of) the best.

hey if it's alright with you I'd like to change one, but only if you don't mind i realize how much work this is as is.

i'd like to replace franco nero with bruce willis since obviously a foriegn actor isn't going to get any recognition... as jim alluded to earlier.

Absolutely no problem. You can change your mind as often as you want, that means till May, 31.

Foreign actors seem indeed to be disadvantaged. For my 7 choices it was a very close race, European actors like Philippe Noiret or Bruno Ganz would nearly have made it.

Jim Caviezel

Oops sorry, the other 6:
Ethan Hawke
Ewan McGregor
Tom Hanks
Johnny Depp
Tony Leung (In the Mood for Love, 2046)
Sean Penn

Hmm... amendment. Striking off Sean Penn for Edward Norton.

Muchas gracias.

Now we have got two leaders: Depp and Murray.

Paul Giamatti
Johnny Depp
Edward Norton
Don Cheadle
Brian Cox
Mark Wahlberg
Peter Sarsgaard

Clearly, there's a certain "type" of acting that I consider great, cuz this seems like a pretty uniform bunch, to me.

Robert De Niro
Clint Eastwood
Paul Newman
Jack Nicholson
Al Pacino
Burt Reynolds
William Shatner

Alright, now, where's the actresses poll?

Alright, here we go.

I feel the list is too "commercial", only Don Cheadle is the real surprise.

May be true, but I highly respect listologists' opinions. And I think that most of these actors, "commercial" or not, are great and therefore absolutely deserve their rank here in the Top 10. Just take Depp or the fantastic Morgan Freeman...

P.S.: I also read your post above, and agree that Day-Lewis is indeed another remarkable actor who should have been among the ten best.

I don't think that an actor's "commercial" success should cast their abilities or accomplishments in a negative light.

The Age of Innocence , Along Came Polly , The Bourne Identity , Cold Mountain , The Crucible , Death to Smoochy , Fight Club , The Flamingo Kid , Gangs of New York , Gladiator , Good Will Hunting , In & Out , The Italian Job , Ladder 49 , The Last of the Mohicans , The Legend of Bagger Vance , Malcolm X , The Manchurian Candidate , My Left Foot , Ocean's Eleven , Patch Adams , The Pelican Brief , Philadelphia , Primal Fear , The People vs. Larry Flint , Remember the Titans , Saving Private Ryan , Signs , The Talented Mr. Ripley , There's Something About Mary , To Die For , Twister , The Village and Wild Things shouldn't rise to the level of disqualifying offences...

...although Space Camp and Herbie: Fully Loaded might.

I am also surprised by the Daniel Day-Lewis deficiency... but then again, I'm baffled by much of the results. I should be used to that by now.

I'm happy you have come up with a comment like this, 0dysseus. I absolutely agree.

This reminds me of another problem that is currently very frequent here in Europe: every film coming from the United States is often immediately put into a "negative light". Some wannabe-critics consider everything coming from Hollywood and surroundings as kitschy, and typically American (that is apparently their new favourite expression). But really that is getting on my nerves. In some German magazines, Clint Eastwood's masterpiece Million Dollar Baby was said to be overly sentimental and 'too American'! Oh, come on, that is not fair.
Whenever I talk about classics like Citizen Kane or Raging Bull to people who want to show themselves critical (especially against the Americans, as every American is like George W. Bush), they just interrupt me and want to teach me that the European cinema is by far better than the American. But, for Christ's sake, that is not true!!! Actually I think that both cinemas, American and European, are more or less equal (from the point of view of their qualities). It is certainly interesting to compare them, but then, please, rather concerning their themes, styles, etc. Each of these two cinemas have got their positive and their negative sides. Of course, there are crappy films like American Pie or Scary Movie coming from the United States, but then let us not ignore great movies, such as Million Dollar Baby or Requiem for a Dream (just to name the most recent masterpieces).
Europe has, of course, got Fellini or Bergman, or more currently, Almodóvar or Wenders, but then again I'm comparing the quality of their work.
This just had to be said, and now it is.

P.S.: Of course, this is in no way directed to Critico's comment, as this has got nothing to do with the "commercial" actors!

N.B.: And people here in Luxembourg should better not criticize classics like The Godfather! The average quality of films produced in the Grand-Duchy is POOR! But that again is a taboo here. (I just hope none of my follow citizens from Luxembourg will read this..., otherwise I'll have to leave the country.)

Yeah, sadly I do think there is a tendency for the rest of the world to dismiss all Americans as the same war-loving, gas-guzzling, wasteful, gluttonous sort of people that Bush is. The ironic thing is that Hollywood is one of the most liberal parts of America - of course, Clint Eastwood is a famous conservative, so that may explain the backlash against Million Dollar Baby.

Thanks, AJ. Such a behaviour towards Americans is just not fair. Every time when I hear these anti-American comments on TV, I just turn it off. I have no problem with people being critical, but then they should also be able to see the problems as a whole and recognize that (by far) not every American has got the same opinion than Bush. Listology for instance is an excellent example for open-minded people beyond the Ocean.

what i meant, is i thought that listologist made more unusual choices that the average moviegoers, i expected to see more Phillip Seymour Hoffman's, or Paul Giammatti's in the list

This reminds me of something I read I-forget-where about Paul Giamatti being passed over when the Best Actor Oscar nominations came out. It made the point that Hollywood actors like to think of themselves as handsome, charismatic, talented... attractive and "successful". For them to recognize Giamatti (and most of the roles he takes/gets) as a great actor would be in direct opposition to the self-image that actors aspire to. I think that makes so much sense that it scares me.

I still think that Giamatti will get his Oscar as soon as the shame and/or outrage reaches a certain level. Unfortunately, it will probably be when he plays either a likeable/loveable loser who is the centerpiece of a feel-good movie or when he plays the noble hero of a tragic film. This also scares me....

Thank you very much, I appreciate it... and I appreciate your smart, substantive post. Very interesting.

It is tough (and frightening) to be faced with someone/something more powerful than oneself. The culture of the United States seems so omnipresent and omnipotent that it threatens to overrun everything in its path. I think that it is this kind of fear that results in reflexive anti-American opinion. The simple fact that some movie, television show or book is from America is enough to condemn it in the eyes of much of the rest of the world. I'm not sure that this is wrong.

When a society is under attack by a culture as stifling and oppressive as that of the United Staes it makes sense to value nationalism over American mores. America (and Hollywood) is so extremely rich and so extremely seductive that it is difficult to withstand and it often seems pointless to try. One way to resist is by viewing everything American in a harsh light. One could even argue that this is only fair as it is the mirror image of American exceptionalism. Just as local produce has increased value so does "local" culture. Buying local products supports local farmers/artisans as well as promoting variety, creativity and individuality. It also insures that money stays in the area instead of going to large faceless companies in far away places.

This knee-jerk discounting of all things American can be myopic but I can't say that it's not a valid perspective. Especially in the current world political climate, when it appears that the United States has no concern for the opinions or even the safety of other countries, it is understandable that people feel under attack by all things American. However I must say that in my experience most people have a (largely) positive opinion of Americans and a distinctly different opinion of George W. Bush. They easily (perhaps hopefully) differentiate between the policies of the Bush administration and the American people. Perhaps this is because virtually all of the Americans that I know view President Bush with a hatred bordering on loathing. There's nothing like dispirited resignation about the so-called Leader of the so-called Free World.

Thx. I'm always VERY happy, when I get a post from you. It is a great read, and gives a lot to think about.

Your explanations seem (and they certainly are) very logical. It is diffcult for me now to write a worthy reply to such an excellent post...

This reminds me of sth. else: This Friday, the Dalai Lama will be here in Luxembourg (and I'm gonna see him live!!!), but (this is what I read in a reader letter in the newspaper, and it is true) our politicians refuse to receive him (because they don't want to weaken their relations with China). Yet, if President Bush or Putin come, they are received with a red carpet, music and champagne.