One thing that we movie fans can be happy about is the large number of great actors in the business today. When putting together this list of five great modern-day actors I couldn’t help but feel bad about leaving guys off who certainly deserve to be on. But such is a testament to the great amount of talent out there. It’s hard to balance incredible individual performances with bodies of work, but I’ve tried to factor in both. So as hard as it was, here they are. As always, I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But there’s no denying that these 5 modern-day actors are absolutely phenomenal.
#5 – CHRISTIAN BALE
Bale has come a long way from being the young 14-year old boy in “Empire of the Sun”. At 38 years of age he has amassed an impressive resume of performances that range from straight-forward action pictures to gritty, emotional dramas. After “Empire of the Sun”, Bale received a lot of attention for his role as a serial killer in 1999’s “American Psycho”. From there he established himself as a quality action movie star in films like “Reign of Fire” and “Equilibrium”. In 2005 his career skyrocketed after being cast as Bruce Wayne in “Batman Begins”, director Christopher Nolan’s fantastic reboot of the Batman series. The role opened up doors for Bale to work with some great directors such as Terrence Malick in “The New World” and Werner Herzog in “Rescue Dawn”. After working with Nolan again in “The Prestige”, he worked opposite Russell Crowe in the underappreciated remake “3:10 to Yuma”. That led to Bale’s biggest film yet, “The Dark Knight”, the second installment in Nolan’s Batman trilogy. After two more action pictures, Bale starred in David O. Russell’s “The Fighter” a movie that earned him his first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Bale is set to star in the final Batman movie of the Dark Knight trilogy this year and I can’t wait to see what else.
#4 – GEORGE CLOONEY
Clooney started his career in television and first gained notoriety on the show E.R. But it was Quintin Tarentino and Robert Rodriguez who brought Clooney to the attention of moviegoers in the vampire action flick “From Dusk to Dawn”. After roles in the mediocre romantic comedy “One Fine Day” and the equally mediocre action thriller “The Peacemaker”, Clooney starred in a film that could have ended many careers, Joel Schumaker’s horrible “Batman and Robin”. But Clooney’s career began to take form thanks to some well-received roles in films such as “Three Kings”, “Solaris”, and his first collaboration with the Coen Brothers “O’ Brother Where Art Thou?”. “O’ Brother” showed Clooney wasn’t afraid to show his fantastic sense of humor. He would later star is such fun and quirky films as “Leatherheads”, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”, “Burn After Reading”, and “The Men Who Stare at Goats”. But Clooney also established himself as a force behind the camera in the heavy, political-driven “Good Night and Good Luck”. He also saw himself garnering more critical acclaim that catapulted him into superstardom. He won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in 2005’s “Syriana”. He was nominated for Best Actor Oscars in the wonderful films “Michael Clayton”, “Up in the Air”, and “The Descendents”. Clooney is a bona-fide Hollywood superstar but it’s one of the rare cases where it’s for good reason. He’s a powerful actor who can command the screen and you can expect a quality performance every time.
#3 – LEONARDO DICAPRIO
DiCaprio has been making quality films since he was a kid. In fact it was only recently that I saw him as the brilliant adult actor that he has become. He first captured attention for his remarkable performance as a mentally challenged boy in 1993’s “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”. He was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar and it was here that DiCaprio was recognized as much more than just a child actor. He starred in several other films but it may have been James Cameron’s “Titantic” that really put his name on the map. After working with Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks in “Catch Me If You Can”, DiCaprio starred in a film that would launch a fantastic actor/director relationship. “The Gangs of New York” marked his first film with Director Martin Scorsese. The duo followed it with “The Aviator” and “The Departed” each earning DiCaprio critical praise. He would receive his third Oscar nomination for “Blood Diamond” and then teamed up again with Kate Winslet in “Revolutionary Road”. He then got back with Scorsese to make the underrated psychological thriller “Shutter Island” which was followed by the starring role in Christopher Nolan’s phenomenal “Inception”. 2012 looks to be an even better year for DiCaprio. He has two intriguing films coming out, “The Great Gatsby” and Quintin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained”. What’s amazing is that DiCaprio is still only 37-years old. It’s fun to imagine what he still has in store for us.
#2 – DANIEL DAY-LEWIS
Daniel Day-Lewis would probably be #1 on this list if he had a bigger body of work to talk about. On the flip side of that, his limited body of work contains some of the greatest performances in modern cinema. Day-Lewis isn’t an actor who constantly stays busy and he’s very selective in choosing his roles. Another reason Day-Lewis is so good as that he immerses himself into each role. He’s known to stay in his character both on and off-screen throughout the entire shoot and his comfort levels with his characters are evident. Day-Lewis started his acting career in theatre and television but quickly gained attention on the big screen. His most recognized early film work was in 1985’s “A Room with a View”. But it was 1989’s “My Left Foot” that really brought him critical acclaim and eventually the Academy Award for Best Actor. In 1992 he starred in Michael Mann’s amazing adaptation of “The Last of the Mohicans”. Quality performances followed in movies such as “The Age of Innocence”, “The Boxer”, and “In the Name of the Father”, a film that earned another Best Actor Oscar nomination. After taking a few years off, Day-Lewis returned for his memorable performance in Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York”, a performance that earned him yet another Best Actor Oscar nomination. But it was his work in 2007’s “There Will Be Blood” that won just about every acting award available including his second Best Actor Oscar. His performance as Daniel Plainview is mesmerizing and I have no problem calling it one of my favorite performances in movie history. Up next for Day-Lewis is the role of Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln”. I can only imagine what Day-Lewis will bring to the character and he’s one actor I can’t miss.
#1 – RUSSELL CROWE
Russell Crowe could be seen as a rugged “man’s man” actor. He’s starred in an assortment of gritty period films and crime dramas. But Crowe has also showed a sharp range and an intense dedication to putting everything into his characters. Crowe is a far cry from the “pretty boy” image that many actors embrace. He brings a natural and authentic quality to his performances and that’s a big reason why he’s able to excel in such a wide variety of movies. His acting career started in Australia but he soon shifted to American films. He starred as the villain opposite Denzel Washington in the goofy sci-fi action flick “Virtuosity”. But the quality of his films quickly rose with “L.A. Confidential”, a critical success that gave Crowe’s career a boost. After several smaller roles, Crowe starred alongside Al Pacino in Michael Mann’s “The Insider”. He received high marks for his performance and even received his first Oscar nomination. But it was his work in 2000’s “Gladiator” that brought him to the forefront of motion pictures. He won the Best Actor Oscar in what is one of my personal favorite films. The following year Crowe starred in “A Beautiful Mind”, a remarkable movie that was drastically different from “Gladiator”. He received another Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance that he should have won. In 2003 he starred in “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”, a gripping historical epic that didn’t garner him an Oscar nomination but it certainly should have. Crowe’s range was again made evident through a run of high quality movies including the boxing film “Cinderella Man” , a fantastic western “3:10 to Yuma”, a crime drama “American Gangster”, a spy picture “Body of Lies”, and a political thriller “State of Play”. In 2010 Crowe made his fifth film with director Ridley Scott, “Robin Hood”. And while I found it to be a another strong film from Crowe, it was received with mixed reviews. Crowe is currently working on two films, “Broken City” and “Superman: Man of Steel”. At age 47, Crowe still has a lot of good movies to make. He’s a natural talent that can carry the movie and whenever I see his name attached, I’m automatically interested.
See an actor that I missed. Disagree with my choices? Leave a comment and share your five favorite modern-day actors.