So last summer I embarked upon the bloated indulgence that was the 64-may-enter-one-may-leave Actress Tournament (Frances McDormand has been touring the country at mall openings and local ethnic festivals all year). If you recall, this was my alternative to ripping off the "Top 100 List" idea from other, more accomplished bloggers. 64 actresses faced off in one-on-one matchups based on criteria entirely of my own choosing. Ever since that feature concluded, I wanted to embak upon an actor's equivalent, and now that it's summer, it seems like the perfect time.
So, how does this work? 64 actors in a tournament-style single elimination. I'm only taking into account performances from the past ten years (1997 and onward). Film and television performances count. Match-ups will be judged on the following merits: (1) number of performances I've enjoyed (sheer quantity); (2) whose singular best performance is the greatest (quality); (3) if I had an Oscar ballot, how many nominations would the actor have received since '97 (fake Oscars); (4) if both actors have co-starred in a film, who gave the better performance (spotlights stolen).
The fifth criterion in the Actress Tournament was "Girlfight Factor," which served us well. Of course, where's the fun in watching two dudes fight? We can see that crap on ESPN. No, for these guys, we want to see them working it. So our final criterion is, all apologies to Daniel Vosovic, the Motherf*cking Walkoff. Who'd come out the best walking a runway.
If you were around last summer for the Actresses, I have to tell you the Actors Tournamnet is shaping up to be much more unpredictable -- when I began with the atcresses, I had a pretty good idea who had a shot at winning and who didn't, here I am much more in the dark. Also, the sad fact that there are far more roles in Hollywood for men than for women made the "Spotlights Shared" category pretty dull for the actresses. No so with the actors, so that should shake things up a bit. Anyway, enough stalling:
Round 1 begins:
Christian Bale vs. Ewan McGregor
Quantity: For someone who hovers just under the Hollywood Leading Man stratosphere -- or did up until Batman -- Bale has certainly found his share of meaty leading roles: American Psycho, The Machinist, The Prestige. McGregor, meanwhile, has been one of Hollywood's U.K. men of choice ever since Trainspotting, scoring with Big Fish, Down With Love, and Moulin Rouge! No, we're not counting the Star Wars prequels. Duh. After it's all added up, the scales balance: Push.
Quality: Bale's best work remains 2000's American Psycho, where his portrait of faceless corporate savagery (literally) is still unnerving. McGregor's best work was in Trainspotting, but since that's just outside the eligibility period, we go to his work in Velvet Goldmine, which...see below. Bale takes this.
Fake Oscar Nods: Bale: 1 (American Psycho); MacGregor: 0
Spotlights Stolen: In 1998, they were both fortunate to hop onto Todd Haynes's sublime Velvet Goldmine. Bale plays the awestruck journalist seeking a truth that will only end up busting up his illusions, while McGregor is an Iggy Pop-ish corrupting influence on sweet, pouty Jonathan Rhys-Myers. If not for Toni Collette, Ewan might have walked away with the entire movie, so this one's pretty clearly McGregor's category.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Good one! Two very good-looking gentlemen here. The difference is this: when dressed up all formal-like, Ewan tends to look like a kid dressing up in big-boy clothes (Down With Love; Moulin Rouge!), while Bale, on the other hand, can sure cut a suave silhouette (American Psycho; Batman Begins). Advantage: Bale
Winner: Christian Bale 3-1
Gael Garcia Bernal vs. Tobey Maguire
Quantity: It's not entirely a fair fight, with Bernal not crossing over into American multiplexes until 2002. In the meantime, Maguire went from supporting teen in adult dramas (The Ice Storm; Wonder Boys) to overshadowed-but-solid lead in classy and warm-hearted pictures (The Cider House Rules; Pleasantville; Seabiscuit) to action hero extraordinaire (Spider-Man 1 and 2).
Quality: Tobey's signature film role is also likely his best, as the gawky and pensive Peter Parker he brought to the Spider-Man movies helped set them apart from other superhero fare. But I prefer the best of Bernal's career: a tricky and stylized performance in Pedro Almodovar's Bad Education.
Fake Oscar Nods: Bernal: 1 (Bad Education); Maguire: 0
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Bernal is starting from a disadvantage because at five-foot-six and a half he is a wee little man, and you know how much advantage height can be on a runway. Still, his opponent IS Tobey Maguire. I just can't picture him getting any kind of strut on, Pussy Posse or not. Bernal, on the other hand, can put a little wiggle in that walk, if his drag queening in Bad Education is anything to go by. Advantage: Bernal
Winner: Gael Garcia Bernal 3-1
Tom Wilkinson vs. Elijah Wood
Quantity: Love Tom Wilkinson. Love him. So why doesn't he have very many more credits on his side of the ledger than In The Bedroom and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (and, okay, The Exorcism of Emily Rose). It's partly our fault. We never saw The Full Monty or Separate Lies. Of course, it's also partly on Tom, who doesn't tend to discriminate against choosing throwaway roles in bad movies (The Last Kiss) or powdered-wig type roles where he fades into a background of British (or Dutch) bureaucracy (Stage Beauty; Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Gathering Storm). Wood, on the other hand, has the 3-for-1 advantage of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it's true. But we liked him in his shy teen roles before that (The Ice Storm; The Faculty). And after the Hobbit feet came off, Wood has really impressed us with fun performances in against-type movies like Sin City and Green Street Hooligans. Advantage: Wood
Quality: This one's easy. Tom Wilkinson in In the Bedroom blows away anything on Wood's (or most actors') C.V.
Fake Oscar Nods: Wilkinson: 1 (In The Bedroom); Wood: 0
Spotlights Stolen: They were both part of the stellar ensemble in the best film of 2004, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Both performed quite well, Wilkinson hilariously matter-of-fact as the memory-erasure doctor, and Wood as an opportunistic little scumbag. Much as we loved Wilkinson, it was Wood's panty-sniffing Patrick that truly won us over.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: So it all comes down to the walkoff -- just as God intended -- and it's a tough call. Wilkinson can work some formal wear, that much is true. But the powdered wigs tend to be pretty retro. On the other hand, the murderous cretin Wood plays in Sin City has the impassive stare and perfect posture any model would kill for. We're as surprised at this result as anyone, but Advantage: Wood
Winner: Elijah Wood 3-2
Russell Crowe vs. Tom Hanks
Quantity: We're gonna be honest: this is not a very appealing matchup. We were pretty much guilted into having them in the top 64, because, in Crowe's case, he keeps giving good performances in increasingly mawkish movies (Cinderella Man; A Beautiful Mind). He's also done great work in some movies we rather enjoyed (The Insider; L.A. Confidential). And also...okay fine, Gladiator. Whatever. We like Hanks a lot better, but since 1996, we've really only liked him in Saving Private Ryan and Catch Me If You Can and a couple others. Crowe gets the edge here.
Quality: Crowe gives a bunch of fun layers to the burly rageaholic cop (hmm, that's interesting in retrospect) in L.A. Confidential. We're sure Hanks's quiet dignity in Saving Private Ryan was the right call, but it's just not as impressive. Advantage: Crowe
Fake Oscar Nods: Crowe: 2 (The Insider; L.A. Confidential); Hanks: 0
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Hanks's age works against him here, as does his bland (i.e., not edgy) demeanor, but you're living in a fool's paradise if you think Crowe makes it to the end of a runway with flashbulbs and call phones everyone without a category 5 meltdown. Advantage: Hanks
Winner: Russell Crowe 3-1
John C. Reilly vs. Mark Wahlberg
Quantity: It should come as no surprise to anyone that Reilly -- oft-ubiquitous character actor that he is -- outpaces Wahlberg by quite a bit in this category. Chalk it up to Reilly's close relationship with P.T. Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) and to the 2002 Best Picture lineup (Chicago, The Hours, Gangs of New York). Wahlberg attached himself to David O. Russell's star (Three Kings; I Heart Huckabees), and I don’t even know whether I liked his turn in The Departed or not, though it luckily wouldn't matter anyway. Advantage: Reilly
Quality: Reilly's unheralded yet hysterical performance in Boogie Nights versus Wahlberg's unheralded yet hysterical performance in I Heart Huckabees. They both tend to steal the show whenever onscreen, but Wahlberg generally does it all by himself, while Reilly works in tandem with...Mark Wahlberg. Diabolical, Marky. Advantage: Wahlberg
Fake Oscar Nods: Wahlberg: 1 (I Heart Huckabees); Reilly: 0
Spotlights Stolen: They've shared the screen twice: in Boogie Nights and The Perfect Storm. The latter film is the easier call, as Wahlberg and Diane Lane are pretty much the class of that cast. As for the former, they make such a good pair, it's tough to say one's better. But in addition to their scenes together, Wahlberg holds up the rest of the movie with a performance that gets funnier every time I see it.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Okay, everybody who used to model underwear for Calvin Klein take one big step forward. Sorry, Johnny. Advantage: Wahlberg
Winner: Mark Wahlberg 4-1
Jim Broadbent vs. Liam Neeson
Quantity: It would seem there are two types of roles for Jim Broadbent: roles where he nestles comfortably into the ensemble (Vanity Fair; Vera Drake) and roles where be busts out and steals some damn scenes (Moulin Rouge!; Gangs of New York). Neeson, for his part, has moved into a career where he can succeed equally well in lead roles (Kinsey) and supporting (Love, Actually; Batman Begins). In the end, Broadbent's recent HBO work on Longford nudges him ahead..
Quality: Broadbent's over-the-top enthusiasm in Moulin Rouge! is unsubtle in all the ways it needs to be, and places higher than Neeson's work in Kinsey.
Fake Oscar Nods: Broadbent: 2 (Moulin Rouge!; Gangs of New York); Neeson: 0
Spotlights Stolen: They've shared the screen twice, in Gangs of New York and The Chronicles of Narnia. The latter's something of a non-event, with Neeson providing voice-over work and Broadbent the warm, if sparsely-used, adult presence. They're both quite strong in Gangs -- second only to Daniel Day Lewis in the cast -- but Broadbent actually manages to steal just the tiniest bit of Bill the Butcher's thunder, and that takes some doing. Advantage: Broadbent
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Neeson may be getting older, but he's still eight frigging feet tall and built like a Secret Service agent. Advantage: Neeson
Winner: Jim Broadbent 4-1
Chris Cooper vs. Jeffrey Wright
Quantity: They're both among the most reliable and exciting supporting performers in film today. Cooper's star rose quickly with high acclaim for American Beauty, then an Oscar for Adaptation. Recently, he's been a steady presence in films like Capote and Seabiscuit. Wright's flashy debut lead performance in Basquiat gave way to all-star work on HBO (Boycott; Angels in America). Cooper tops out by a slim margin.
Quality: This is a marquee matchup right here: Cooper's John LaRoche in Adaptation versus Wright's Belize (with a side of Mr. Lies) in Angels in America. Both were justly acclaimed. Both were those rare performances that won awards because you couldn't in good conscience give them to anyone else. It comes as no surprise that we prefer the Angels in America performance, but it was a close call. Advantage: Wright
Fake Oscar Nods: Cooper: 1 (Adaptation); Wright: 0
Spotlights Stolen: Both shared the screen in 2005's Syriana. Cooper was solid as a white collar energy bigwig, but Wright was more affecting as a lawyer with his conscience stuck in the middle.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: It's almost not a fair fight. Cooper's a handsome gentleman, but Belize? Girl can work it. Advantage: Wright
Winner: Jeffrey Wright 3-2
Jack Nicholson vs. Sean Penn
Quantity: Fun fact: Nicholson has made six films since 1997. Five of them count in his favor here, including his joyfully vulgar turn in The Departed. Penn, meanwhile, has found some serious success in Mystic River and 21 Grams, but also: I Am Sam, The Interpreter, Hurlyburly. Yeesh. Advantage: Nicholson
Quality: I thought Penn did fantastic work in Mystic River, but I don't think it holds up to Nicholson's role in About Schmidt, which got credit for taking Jack against type, but the performance transcended expectation. How does a Jack Nicholson performance sneak up on you? This one did.
Fake Oscar Nods: Nicholson: 2 (About Schmidt; As Good As It Gets); Penn: 1 (Mystic River)
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Sean's certainly got the smile-less face look happening. But Jack's been living a walkoff for the past fifty years. Advantage: Nicholson
Winner: Jack Nicholson 4-0
Coming soon: Stoners! Shlubs! Not one but two Wilsons! Round 1 continues...