Sunday, September 9, 2018

My Favorite 42 Actors of the Last 42 Years

What is the best part about making a list?  The reader is at the mercy of the writer!

This is my personal list of the top 42 actors within the last 42 years, representing the span of my lifetime.  You can argue that my first movie watching impressions were not made until the mid-80's, but this is my list, so it's my rules.  Let's call the time period of 1975 to the present, the "Modern Era of Movie Making."

I tend to watch more drama than comedy.  More action than horror.  More adventure than sci-fi.  So, while I do enjoy a good Dan Aykroyd and Billy Murray movie, not many actors who focus on the comedy genre made my list.  It is comprised mostly of movies that have had some sort of impact on me in my younger, impressionable years.  The list involves mostly movie actors, but there are some actors I nominated because of tv roles they've played, and some who did both movies and tv, excelling at both.

The best part about my list, is that it is my list.  I can guarantee you that no one on earth has the same list, in the same sequence.  That is because each person has their own movie watching history, and while you may appreciate what I have assembled, you will likely disagree somewhere along the way.  The uniqueness of each person in this world is one of the many things that fascinates me. It's what makes lists of this nature, so much fun.

With any list, there are going to be snubs.  Despite endless hours of research on this project, I inevitably overlooked or forgot someone.  And it is probable that if I start over, the sequence of the list may change.  But eventually you just have to drawn the line in the sand and call it done. I've drawn my line.

Before you start leaving comments about my choices, note that I am able to separate the craft from the person.  I am not looking for role models in my movie stars.  So, if they lean one way or the other politically, or have had other issues off stage, I've put those things aside.  And I am sure that someday I will take the time to create an actress list, but there are only so many hours in the day and I had to start somewhere.

Without further ado, here is the list of my 42 favorite actors from the last 42 years.


42. Heath Ledger

Reasons why: A Knight's TaleThe Dark Knight.  His portrayal of the Joker is one of the best acting performances I have ever seen.  It is likely how much he got into character for this that brought about his demise.

41. Mel Gibson

Reasons why:  MaverickBraveheart.  While I enjoyed his ability to play an insane cop in the action and adventure series Lethal Weapon, it was his role in Maverick opposite James Garner that I preferred.

40. Al Pacino

Reasons why:  HeatInsomnia.  Watching Will Dormer try to stay awake, while hiding secrets in the Alaskan thriller, Insomnia, was one of Pacino's most masterful performances and it totally flew under the radar.

39. Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Reasons why:  Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, 500 Days of Summer.  With a host of credits from his youth that include 3rd Rock from the Sun, Roseanne, and Family Ties, JGL has been at it for a long time with his best roles to come.

38. Andrew McCarthy

Reasons why: Mannequin, Pretty in Pink, Less Than Zero, St. Elmo's Fire.  An original brat-packer, McCarthy's role as the rich kid falling in love with the girl from the wrong side of the tracks in Pretty in Pink earns him a nomination.

37. James Spader

Reasons why:  Blacklist, Stargate, Less Than ZeroPretty in Pink.  One of the actors who played such a bad boy in his youth, then went on to reinvent himself later in life with his role in Blacklist, which is must watch TV.

36. Donald Sutherland

Reasons why:  Without Limits, A Time to Kill, Outbreak, JFK, M*A*S*H.  Ironically the movies that earned him a spot on the list are mostly in supporting roles like JFK which he plays so convincingly.

35. Jon Voight

Reasons why:  The Rainmaker, Mission: Impossible, Deliverance.  Jon Voight's career was mostly before my lifetime so I've seen him play the role of dad (National Treasure) quite a bit, but some of his early stuff like Deliverance is A+.

34. Christian Slater

Reasons why:  Pump Up the Volume, Gleaming the Cube, Heathers, Young Guns II.  Always playing the rebellious teenager during my rebellious teen years meant that I couldn't get enough of Christian Slater.  

33. Richard Gere

Reasons why: Unfaithful, The Jackal, Primal Fear, Pretty Woman.  I will be honest that I have never seen An Officer and a Gentleman (*gasp*), which I've read may have been peak Richard Gere, but otherwise his resume is stellar.

32. Ben Affleck

Reasons why: Changing Lanes, Gone Girl, Runner Runner, Argo, The Town, Good Will Hunting. Ben really should be ranked higher on this list, but has a series of bad movies from Gigli to Batman, which are forgettable roles.

31. Anthony Hopkins

Reasons why: Fracture, Silence of the Lambs.  Sir Anthony's role as Dr. Hannibal Lecter makes my skin crawl just thinking about it.  While he has had other good films, Lambs is one of the most epic acting performances of all time.

30. Tommy Lee Jones

Reasons why: The Fugitive, Double Jeopardy, Blown Away, Lincoln.  Chasing down Dr. Richard Kimble, Tommy Lee Jones as Samuel Gerard in The Fugitive has some of the best 1-liners as that character was written for him.

29. Kiefer Sutherland

Reasons why: Flatliners, A Time to Kill, A Few Good Men, Young Guns, Stand by Me. Kiefer from the mid-80's to early 90's are what trip my trigger, especially playing bad ass roles like Lt. Jonathan Kendrick and Ace Merrill.

28. Nicolas Cage

Reasons why:  National Treasure, Con Air, The Rock, Gone in 60 Seconds, Face/Off.  Sure it is an 8 to 1 ratio of bad movies to good, but when Nic was in his prime fighting bad guys, no one did it better.

27. Kevin Spacey

Reasons why:  The Usual Suspects, A Time to Kill, Se7en.  Who better portraits the criminally insane than Kevin Spacey?  The twist (spolier alert) at the end of The Usual Suspects is one of the great movie endings of all time.

26. Edward Norton

Reasons why:  Fight Club, Primal Fear, Rounders, The Italian Job.  When someone with an innocent smile can play the role of such a bad guy, it is such a rare combination that you just never see coming, aka Tyler Durden.

25. Mark Wahlberg

Reasons why:  Lone Survivor, The Departed , The Perfect Storm.  I couldn't believe it either until I started the research and realized all of the movies that this former New Kid was in I really enjoyed--Thanks Marky Mark!

24. Tom Berenger

Reasons why:  Last of the Dogmen, Platoon, Major League.  Probably an actor that is left off many lists, Berenger was meant to wear a cowboy hat.  His role as Lewis Gates in Dogmen opposite Barbara Hershey was one of his best.

23. Daniel Day-Lewis

Reasons why:  Lincoln, The Last of the Mohicans, Gangs of New York.  Day-Lewis doesn't do it often, but when he is aleading man, prepare to be blown away.  I really thought I was watching Abraham Lincoln for 2 hours and 28 minutes.

22. Brad Pitt

Reasons why:  Spy Game, Money Ball, Fight Club, Sleepers, Se7en.  Screaming "What's in the box?!" before shooting John Doe was a great movie ending, but Pitt has countless other roles (Tyler Durden) that earn him a top 25 spot in my list.

21. Andy Griffith

Reasons why: Matlock, The Andy Griffith Show.  I could watch Ben Matlock with his southern charm crack murder mysteries in an Atlanta courtroom all day long and twice on Sundays.

20. John Krasinski

Reasons why: 13 Hours, The Office, A Quiet Place.  Definitely a newcomer to my list, but John proved his versatility as he went from goofy Jim Halpert playing pranks on Dwight in The Office to a six-pack of muscle in Benghazi.

19. Sean Connery

Reasons why:  Medicine Man, The Rock, DragonHeart, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Hunt for Red October, James Bond.  The list is never ending for Connery, but I love him most as Indiana's dad in Last Crusade.

18. Tom Hanks

Reasons why: Saving Private Ryan, Apollo 13, Big, Splash.  Hanks was the go to leading man in Hollywood for two decades, and deservedly so.  But I think it was his crossing dressing role in Bosom Buddies that helped launch his stardom.

17. Robert De Niro

Reasons why: Heat, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Goodfellas, Cape Fear, The Deer Hunter, Taxi Driver.  Most people didn't know that De Niro played the Creature in Frankenstein, which was far and away the best adaptation of this story.

16. Matt Damon

Reasons why: The Departed, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Saving Private Ryan, The Rainmaker, Good Will Hunting.  The story of Will Hunting makes me want to go out and conquer the world.  Thank you for writing and starring in it Mr. Damon.

15. Neil Patrick Harris

Reasons why: How I Met Your Mother, Doogie Howser, M.D.  The original blogger and child doctor prodigy with a crush on Wanda Plenn went on the play a womanizer in HIMYM.  Two totally different roles showing great diversity. 

14. Billy Crystal

Reasons why: City Slickers, When Harry Met Sally, Throw Momma from the Train.  Watching Mitch Robbins yell "moo cow" in a river during a mid-life crisis while he search for the meaning of life on a cattle drive with his best friends = priceless.

13. Robin Williams

Reasons why: Insomnia, What Dreams May Come, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, Good Morning Vietnam.  A life cut tragically short, I have never been so moved (queue the tears) as I was with his role as Sean in Good Will Hunting.

12. Bruce Willis

Reasons why: Die Hard, Unbreakable, The Sixth Sense, Armageddon.  Known as a blockbuster movie guy, it is the roles of David Addison on Moonlighting and Paul Stevens on Friends that move Demi Moore's ex-husband near the top of this list.

11. Alan Alda

Reasons why: Murder at 1600, ER, Blacklist, MASH.  Alan Alda's laugh is utterly infectious and his portrayal of Hawkeye Pierce is one of my favorite on screen performances.  Goodybe.  Farewell.  Amen.

10. Morgan Freeman

Reasons why: Kiss the Girls, Se7en, Unforgiven, The Shawshank Redemption, Batman Begins. The old joke is that if you could have anyone narrate your life, it would be Morgan Freeman.  Ellis Boyd 'Red' Redding for the win.

9. John Cusack

Reasons why: Love & Mercy, Runaway Jury, Identity, Serendipity, Con Air, Say Anything...  His role as Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys is so stunning that it took this top 25 guy and vaulted him into the top 10 for me.

8. Harrison Ford

Reasons why: Star Wars, Raiders, The Fugitive, What Lies Beneath.  Maybe the one actor on this list who has been on top for all 4 four decades.  When they killed him off in Star Wars, I shed more than a few tears.

7. Kevin Bacon

Reasons why: The Following, Mystic River, Stir of Echoes, Wild Things, Apollo 13, A Few Good Men, Footloose.  No one else can claim to have a "six degrees..." game named after themselves, but Kevin Bacon.  He is Kevin-freaking- Bacon.

6. Scott Bakula

Reasons why: Quantum Leap.  The highest ranking of any actor largely known for a single role.  Yes, yes, yes, I know he has a few other credits, but leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong is legendary for me.

5. Kevin Costner

Reasons why: JFK, Tin Cup, Field of Dreams, Dances with Wolves, The Bodyguard, Bull Durham.  "If you build it, they will come."  And as long as Kevin Costner keeps making movies about my passion, I will be in the front row.

4. Patrick Swayze

Reasons why: Ghost, Point Break, Dirty Dancing.  Three of my favorite movies of all time.  Swayze is the first person on my Mount Rushmore of actors.  Nobody puts Bodhi in a corner.

3. Matthew McConaughey

Reasons why: Lincoln Lawyer, A Time to Kill, Dazed and Confused, Sahara.  If there is such a thing as one man having a man crush on another man, I have one on Mattew McConaughey for his role as Jake Tyler Brigance.

2. Tom Cruise

Reasons why: Top Gun, Mission Impossible, American Made, Rock of Ages, The Last Samurai, Minority Report, A Few Good Men, The Firm, Risky Business.  Jump on as many couches as you want Tom.  You've earned your ranking.

1. Leonardo DiCaprio

Reasons why: Shutter Island, Inception, The Revenant, Titanic, The Beach, Growing Pains.  Team Leo has starred in more of my favorite movies than another other actor, putting him on the top of the mountain for this list.


Editing credits courtesy of Rachel Charette.