5 PHENOMENAL MODERN DAY ACTORS

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‚Äôt call this the definitive list. But there‚Äôs 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 РLEONARDO 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 РRUSSELL 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.

Oscar – The morning after…

Well it has come and gone. The 2012 Oscars seemed to get here in a hurry and be done just as quick. As usual for the more recent¬†Oscars, there were few surprises. Most of the “Big 6” went as I predicted and the only real surprises were with the technical awards. But overall it was a fun night. Here’s a few thoughts…

Billy Crystal hosted the 2012 show after the Eddie Murphy debacle (or should I say the Brett Ratner¬†debacle) and he did a solid job. Unlike last year’s odd and sometimes uncomfortable hosting from James Franco and Anne Hathaway, this was more grounded but still quite funny. Crystal used several tried-and-true antics such as the song detailing the Best Picture Nominees and the “What they’re thinking” segment. I found them and several of Crystal’s adaptive one-liners to be very funny. Several of the presenters provided some good laughs including Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, Emma Stone, Chris Rock (I was surprised, too), and of course Robert Downey, Jr.¬†Oh, and¬†c’mon Academy! Am I the only one who thinks that Downey, Jr. would be the funniest Oscars host of all time? Sign him up.

“Hugo” ended the night with five Oscars. It was awarded for its technical¬†achievements and it’s hard for me to argue with that. “A Seperation” won¬†for Best Foreign Language film which was followed by a rather unusual acceptance speech from director Asghar¬†Farhadi. “The Descendants” won Best Adapted Screenplay and I was thrilled that “Midnight in Paris” won for Best Original Screenplay. Of course Woody Allen wasn’t there but did we ever expect him to be?

The supporting categories went exactly as expected. Octavia Spencer (The Help) and Christopher Plummer (Beginners) had already been christened the winners well before the ceremony began and that’s exactly how things played out. Spencer gave one of the most genuine and emotional acceptance speeches of the night and Plummer became the oldest Oscar winner ever. It was good seeing Nick Nolte recognized with a nomination even though I’m not sure he knew where he was last night.

Meryl Streep won Best Actress for her performance in “The Iron Lady”. That category¬†had turned into a two person race and I really felt that Viola Davis had a good chance to win. But Streep was awarded for a performance that certainly outweighed the rather mundane and mixed reviewed movie. The Oscar media had tried their best to sell the whole Clooney¬†(“The Descendants”)¬†versus Pitt (“Moneyball”)¬†Best Actor race. But as I expected (and hoped), Jean Dujardin¬†won the Oscar for his wonderful performance in “The Artist”. Working with several more handicaps than the other nominees, Dujardin nailed his performance and deserved the award. His acceptance speech and subsequent dance showed his enthusiasm and I found myself applauding from my recliner.

The night only got better for “The Artist”. Michael Hazanavicius¬†won the Best Director Oscar which is almost always a sign of which film¬†will win Best Picture. Last night was no different. Hazanavicius’ gutsy project won Best Picture and I have no problem with it. While I was personally rooting for “The Tree of Life”, this was a case where the Academy got it right. “The Artist” was a nostalgic but touching film that felt plucked right out of the silent movie era. I loved seeing it win.

So while it was a fairly predictable night, it was a good night. The stars played dress-up and movie fans witnessed new films and new performances added to that Valhalla of motion picture history. I went 5 for 6 in the “Big 6” categories¬†so that speaks to the shows lack of suspense. But there were some genuinely funny moments and some good movies received their due.

It’s Oscar Time….

We are only a couple of hours away from the 2012 Oscars. It’s the Super Bowl of movies minus the mystery and minus without the clear deserved winner when the show is over. But it’s still fun and exciting, filled with stars and linking a new group of Oscar-winning movies with a great history. So with just minutes to go, once again here is what I expect to happen tonight…

Tonight will be a big night for “The Artist”. I fully expect it to take home the Best Picture Oscar with its closest competition being Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants”. While personally I’ll be rooting for “The Tree of Life”, it has no chance. This is a two movie race. I also expect Michel Hazanavicius to win Best Director, an award than often times signals what film will be winning Best Picture.

The Oscar media is desperately trying to hype a George Clooney¬†(The Descendants) vs Brad Pitt (Moneyball) Best Actor race but Pitt really has no shot. This is a race between Clooney¬†and Jean Dujardin¬†(The Artist). While Clooney¬†is the golden boy of Hollywood is was strong in “The Descendants”, I expect Dujardin to win the Best Actor Oscar and rightly so.

Yes,¬†Meryl Streep has been nominated 257,000 times and only won twice. Yes, many believe she will win tonight for her work in the underwhelming “The Iron Lady”. I’m not one of those believers. I think Streep will settle for another nomination as Viola Davis gets the win for her work in “The Help”. While it’s also a flawed movie, Davis’ performance outweighs Streep’s and it’s hard to argue with her winning.

The Supporting awards are pretty much a sure thing. Octavia Spencer will easily beat her “The Help” co-star Jessica Chastain (who should have been nominated for her much stronger performances in “Take Shelter” and “The Tree of Life”). Christopher Plummer seems to be the Academy’s choice for Best¬†Supporting Actor already even though I would much rather see Nick Nolte get it for “Warrior”.

I’m hoping “Midnight in Paris” and “Hugo” get some love tonight as well but these are the big winners. What are your thoughts? Agree or disagree? Feel free to share below. One things for sure, it should be a fun night.

TOP 5 BEST LEAD ACTOR PERFORMANCES OF 2011

TOP 5 BEST LEAD ACTOR PERFORMANCES OF 2011

When I look back on 2011, it will be a year where the performances actually outshined the finished films. While several movies became favorites of mine, it was the wide range of high quality acting work that really impressed me. Since we have talked about the ladies, let’s get to my top 5 male leading performances for 2011. Again, it was hard to leave a couple of names off this list, but this is one solid group of actors.

#5 – Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris)

I’m as surprised at this as anyone else. I’m not the biggest Owen Wilson fan. I’ve often times found him over the top and just too goofy for my taste. But while we get hints of the Owen Wilson we’ve seen in¬†past movies, in “Midnight in Paris” he seems more controlled and tempered while still being genuinely funny. I really liked Gil Pender and appreciated how Wilson brings him to life. Woody Allen’s influence can certainly be seen, but Wilson makes the character his own and sells him beautifully.

#4 – George Clooney (The Descendants)

I wasn’t as crazy about Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” as most people, but there’s no denying the brilliant work from George Clooney¬†in the lead role. Clooney¬†honestly makes everyone else who shares a scene with him better. He doesn’t dominate the scenes or call unmerited attention to what he’s doing. It’s a very real and organic performance and one that definitely¬†deserves the attention it has received.

#3 – Mel Gibson (The Beaver)

I was a bit surprised to see Mel Gibson shunned this awards season. Hollywood and the Academy are extremely selective in terms of forgiveness regardless of how much hypocrisy their selectivity exposes. I’m not trying to be a Gibson sympathizer, but his performance in “The Beaver” is not only one of the best performances of the year, but some of the best work of his career. Obviously Gibson knows what it means to be a damaged man but to see it played out with such authenticity on screen was truly stirring. More people should give “The Beaver” a chance. If you do, Gibson’s performance can’t help but be appreciated.

#2 – Jean Dujardin (The Artist)

From the first moment you see Jean Dujardin¬†on screen in “The Artist”, you know you’re seeing something special. His precision and detail in bringing a silent movie character to life goes well past nostalgia. He brought more life to his George Valentin character with the handicap of no voice work than nearly every other performance of 2011. He certainly pays homage to a bygone era of filmmaking. But he also conveys the humor and drama¬†from his character in a way that blew my mind. A truly brilliant performance.

#1 – Michael Shannon (Take Shelter)

Even with such great¬†acting as I’ve already mentioned, no one effected me more than Michael Shannon in “Take Shelter”. He undoubtedly¬†delivers one of the most¬†painfully tragic performances I’ve seen in years. His depiction of mental illness is unique in that his character sees what’s coming. He has seen it in his¬†mother and his biggest concern is on how it will effect¬†his own family. It’s a crushing and emotional performance that was head-amd-shoulders above anything else I saw in 2011. It’s such a shame that he has gone overlooked.

Agree or disagree? Please leave a comment or share your top 5 of 2011.

The 2012 Oscar Nominees Announced…

 

The 2012 Academy Award nominations have been announced and, just as expected, there is plenty to talk about. This year’s list features several snubs, several surprises, and several Academy misfires. But then again, isn’t that what we’ve come to expect? And isn’t that just one of the things that makes the Oscar conversation that much better? Here is the list of the nominees for “The Big 5” categories. My prediction (not my personal favorite) will be in bold print but as always, it’s subject to change. There will be a lots of interviews and promotions over the next few weeks but here is how I think things will turn out:

Actress In A Supporting Role

THE NOMINEES:

Bérénice Bejo (The Artist)
Jessica Chastain (The Help)
Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids)
Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs)
Octavia Spencer (The Help)

I know we all like mystery and surprises when it comes to Oscar night but I don’t see there being any here. Octavia Spencer has dominated this category in the pre-Oscar awards shows and I don’t see this as being any different. Of this group I would have a hard time voting against her. I felt Jessica Chastain had the best female supporting performance of the year but it wasn’t for “The Help”. Her work in “The Tree of Life” was better but her very best work was in the underappreciated film “Take Shelter”. That was the best female supporting performance. But for Oscar night, expect it to be Octavia Spencer.

Actor In A Supporting Role

THE NOMINEES:

Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn)
Jonah Hill (Moneyball)
Nick Nolte (Warrior)
Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close)

I LOVED seeing Nick Nolte get a nod for his work in “Warrior”. It was my favorite male supporting performance of the year and it was the best work Nolte has done in years. Unfortunately Plummer has this category all but locked. Everything has pointed to Plummer and there is nothing about this list of nominees that would make me think otherwise.¬†That being said,¬†I’ll still be rooting for Nolte.

Actress In A Leading Role

THE NOMINEES:

Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs)
Viola Davis (The Help)
Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady)
Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn)

This is one of the most intriguing categories¬†of the night. Meryl Streep has gotten all of the pre-Oscar awards show buzz but don’t count out Viola Davis. Many are trying to hype up the two person race but I think for good reason. Streep may be hurt by the fact that “The Iron Lady” is a very sub par¬†movie and while “The Help” had its flaws, it’s a better picture. My personal favorite performance of the year was from Juliette Binoche for “Certified Copy” but out of this group I would prefer Davis. But my gut tells me Streep is the favorite.

Actor In A Leading Role

THE NOMINEES:

Demián Bichir (A Better Life)
George Clooney (The Descendants)
Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)
Brad Pitt (Moneyball)

Once again my personal favorite of the year is left out. I thought Michael Shannon was nothing short of brilliant for “Take Shelter” but there are some really strong performances in this group. I love seeing Bichir¬†nominated but he has no shot. Oldman¬†was fantastic but he has no chance. Brad Pitt gave the second best performance of his career and his second best performance of the year in “Moneyball” but he won’t win. It all comes down to Clooney¬†and Dujardin. While Shannon was my favorite male performance of the year, Dujardin¬†was a close second. Clooney¬†was fantastic even though “The Descendants” wasn’t as polished as many think. Of this group I would love to see Dujardin¬†take home the gold. But I think Clooney carried his movie and has enough charm in Hollywood to win on Oscar night.

Best Picture

THE NOMINEES:

The Artist (Thomas Langmann, Producer)
The Descendants (Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Producers)
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Scott Rudin, Producer)
The Help (Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan, Producers)
Hugo (Graham King and Martin Scorsese, Producers)
Midnight in Paris (Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum, Producers)
Moneyball (Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt, Producers)
The Tree of Life (Nominees to be determined)
War Horse (Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers)

My favorite film of 2011 was “The Tree of Life” but “The Artist” was right behind it. Michel Hazanavicius¬†creates a gorgeous film from start to finish and I think it will win on Oscar night. But it’s not a done deal just yet. “The Descendants” is high on many lists and has a good shot at winning. While I loved many of the other movies (specifically “Midnight in Paris”, “Hugo”, “Moneyball”, and of course “The Tree of Life”), this is a two-horse race and at the end of the day I feel “The Artist” will win Best Picture and I’m fine with that.