Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Battle Royale: The Actors Tournament

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...


Carrie Ann said...

Excellent choices so far, although Chris Cooper losing to Jeffrey Wright hurts a little.

adam k. said...

OK whoa, first of all, Moulin Rouge! is Ewan's best work. Were you really not that much of a fan? It kind of blows Curt Wild out of the water (though yeah, that's probably second)... and also should defeat anything Bale has done.

Second of all, I can't see Ewan losing a walkoff. Even to Christian Bale. Formalwear may look silly on him, but he'd embrace it, as he always does. Boyfriend was born to play dress up and work it. I call foul. Big "OUCH" on Ewan's elimination in the first round.

I also must humbly submit my opinion that Tom Wilkinson was much better in Eternal Sunshine than Elijah Wood. But that's OK, Wood won't last past the next round anyway.

Still, if you can't tell, I'm already totally addicted. It's fun (though confusing) that there are now actually multiple films in each "spotlights stolen" matchup. Did that ever happen even once last time??? Men really do get more roles.

And though I would've preferred mud wrestling, the motherf*cking walkoff is pretty brilliant. It's kind of the perfect counterpart to the girlfight. So subversive.

"Jack's been living a walkoff the past fifty years"


"Everyone who used to model underwear for Calvin Klein, step forward."


Okay, I'm done now.

Joe R. said...

Re: Ewan -- I like Moulin Rouge just fine, I'm just not as big a fan of Ewan in it. I can't seem to get past the cheesiness of it. I know, I know, I'm not fully giving myself over to Luhrman's vision. In general, I'm not as big a Ewan fan as most.

Sticky Keys said...

I love Ewan a lot but Christian Bale pwns him in this competition. I was pleased to see Jeffrey Wright on the list since most over look him (I blame his versatility, I named three films he was in to a friend who thought they were three different people), but I wonder if you're going to get away with him winning over Chris Cooper. I agree, but it was a bold move to say the least!

WAHLBERG OVER REILLY?!? I.. okay, I'll wait it out, but.. COME ON! Plus JCR has class issues which you see him kind of work out in Talladega Nights and he's sooooo much better than Mark Wahlberg (who, I have to give him his props, is doing his thing). It's your list, I'm simply a spectator, but WOW ;)

I was slightly surprised of Crowe over Hanks though I get it, though I saw Hanks latest and I loved it a lot. Unfortunately I can't remember what it was so I guess you're right on that front.

Kamikaze Camel said...

Bale's Patrick Bateman in American Psycho is pretty much one of the finest male performances ever so, yeah, and if you'd seen that you'd know he rocks the egotistical suit-wearing walk. He should totally win over Ewan.

But Tom Wilkinson losing was a bit sad.

Also, it's a bit unfair to someone like Jeffrey Wright who, as you say, has done his best work on a six-hour television miniseries. But, still, he won so YAY.

I dread Paul Giamatti. I really really do. At least he'll lose the walkoff! Unless he's against Phillip Seymour Hoffman, perhaps. Who I also dislike emmensely.


i just watched BOOGIE NIGHTS again the other night and I'm TOTALLY agreeing with the Wahlberg gets better and better and better the more you watch it.

dude is a fine actor and that performance rocks.

i agree with most of these calls in the walkoffs (the best part!) but WOOD getting best performance for ESOTSM? ARGH! Wilkinson was genius in it.

notanillusion said...

Hell yes, I'm so glad we're back in the tournament!

Bale over McGregor was sad stuff, because I generally like both of them very much, but come down to it, Bale is definitely the stronger of the two. (And so hot we could fry bacon on that beautiful stomach.) (Except in The Machinist, he was scary looking in that.)

I am so surprised to see Elijah take down Tom Wilkinson, because he's so great! I actually do give Wilkinson the edge in ESOTSM, just because I spent half the movie going "Shut the fuck up, Frodo." Although, since that was the point, I concede your perspective is a good one.

Oh, Crowe. You're such an ass, but actually so good.

Again, I would not have pegged Broadbent or Wahlberg over the competition, but you convinced me in both cases. Damn, Wahlberg was great in Huckabees.

Jack wins over Sean just because he makes me not want to hit him with something just for existing.

Dude, you are a tournament god.

Jenny said...

I would have picked Wilkinson in the walkoff. The man can work it; he has the training from The Full Monty! And Elijah is just kind of doughy and blah to me. I'm also floored that Reilly and Cooper are out so early. Especially John C. Effin' Reilly! Come on!! ...aaand, I would have given Ewan an imaginary Oscar nod for Moulin Rouge. But, you know...not my tournament. Whaddaya gonna do.

jessica said...

Love you, Joe! Once again, I am the happiest girl in the world. Chris Cooper losing so early was a little sad, and there were some surprises, but overall I'm ecstatic. Your picks, your walkoffs, everything. PERFECTION!

jess said...


I have to agree that Bale would win in a walk-off.


adam k. said...

Alright, I've been convinced on Bale. I have a friend who thinks he's too "actorly" in his performances, and I definitely agree to an extent, but I'm a fan nonetheless. And it's been a long long time since I saw American Psycho, but I concede that he had the runway action down in that film. And I suppose that perf vs Ewan's perf is just a matter of taste. But Ewan... LOST in the first round... so sad...

Can't get over Wilkinson/Wood, though. Wood deserved his walkoff win, sure, but Wilkinson was SO MUCH better in ESOTSM.

Totally agree, though, with Wright (yes!), Wahlberg (deserved every point he got), Bernal (he'll go far), and Broadbent (love him). Even Crowe I can't argue with, cause psychotic as he is, he's still far more interesting than Hanks.

adam k. said...

And is it just me, or will Jude Law be REALLY hard to beat in this competition? He works steadily, could have as many as 4 or 5 fake oscar nods (don't know how much Joe likes him), and could beat nearly anyone in a walkoff. He seems unstoppable. He'd be my bet to win it all.

The only thing in his way might be the fact that his career didn't get big until '99... but even then, there was Wilde, Gattaca, ExistenZ, and some other stuff Joe might've seen.

qta said...

Brilliant! Though I will say my heart skipped a beat when I came across the Christian/ Ewan match-up. And to put it first! Two of my absolute faves going up against each other in the first round...cruel. But I agree with all the outcomes. Great work Joe... I am hooked.

Joe R. said...

Ah, the sounds of second-guessing. How I've missed you! Hee. Great to see everybody talking and enjoying.

I should say, for the record, that I thought EVERYONE in Eternal Sunshine was excellent, and Eli juuuust edged out Tom in that instance.

Anonymous said...

McGregor can be good, even great (Moulin Rouge!), but he is overrated by people that think he's attractive (which he is). Bale is a much better actor who challenges himself more.

Wilkinson v Wood still hurts though. Wilkinson is a great actor, and Wood has never impressed me except for The Ice Storm.

Kamikaze Camel said...

I really could watch Bale's Psycho performance and Wright's Angels in America performances on a continuous loop 24/7.

Neel Mehta said...

Great concept. I've thought about applying bracketology to entertainment but would never have come up with anything even remotely cooler than the girlfight and walkoff categories.

Also, good to see Jeffrey Wright (and Gael Garcia Bernal, I guess) already on the list. There was a certain, uh, monochromatic nature to your actress tournament, with only Rosario Dawson and Shohreh Aghdashloo representin'.

So, here's hoping we cut down on the vanilla for the remaining 48 actors in the field, with some last-minute adjustments if necessary. I know people like Denzel Washington, Chow Yun-Fat, and Don Cheadle have nothing to worry about, but as first round fodder, I'd rather see Bernie Mac than Paul Walker. (Speaking of, have you seen Mr. 3000? Bernie might even win a round.)

mathan said...

Joe, once again, you've given my summer meaning.

I do think that JCR got robbed here. He's certainly one of my favorite parts of Boogie Nights (The "John C. Reilly Files" are hilarious, even if they are extras.)

Allow me to add my voice to the choir of those saddened by the passing of Chris Cooper. He will be missed.

Man, I really can't wait to see what match ups the next round has!