64 men enter. One man leaves.
(I had to revert to the Mad Max-themed title so that tagline would work.)
A few words on the criteria: 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); and (5) since watching boys fight is something you can see at the closest downtown bar, this time around we're judging by who would prevail in the most time-tested of competitive activities: The Walkoff (Motherf*cking Walkoff).
Round 1 - part 1
Round 1 (cont'd)
Don Cheadle vs. Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Quantity: Much as we appreciate his prodigious talents, Hoffman leaves us irritated (Boogie Nights; Red Dragon) almost as much as he impresses us (State and Main; Magnolia). Still, he's starred in roughly six thousand films in the past ten years, which helps edge him past the Soderbergh-laden credits (Out of Sight, Traffic, Ocean's Eleven) on Cheadle's side of the ledger. Advantage: Hoffman
Quality: Hoffman's Oscar-winning Capote performance really is a crowning achievement, and one that probably outpaces Cheadle's career-topping work in Hotel Rwanda. Advantage: Hoffman
Fake Oscar Nods: Hoffman: 1 (Capote); Cheadle: 0
Spotlights Stolen: They both starred in P.T. Anderson's Boogie Nights. Cheadle was the kind-of inconsequential urban cowboy Buck, while Hoffman was the disgusting gay sad-sack Scotty. God, do we ever hate Scotty. Advantage: Cheadle
Motherf*cking Walkoff: On the surface, the disheveled red carpet appearances Hoffman gave two award seasons ago would seem to disqualify him. But his filmography displays some "work it, girl" tendencies that help us believe Phil could rock a strut. Cheadle, however, is no slouch, even though he never has much chance to display it onscreen. Still, we have faith in him. Advantage: Cheadle
Winner: Phillip Seymour Hoffman 3-2
Joaquin Phoenix vs. Peter Sarsgaard
Quantity: Phoenix is a good actor, and in his best work (Walk the Line; Signs), he's quite endearing, but he's just as often stuck in junky films where he's just sort of stuck looking stoic (thanks much, The Village). Sarsgaard, meanwhile, has shown a staggering ability to deliver a shining beacon of a supporting performance in films from Boys Don't Cry to Garden State to Jarhead.
Quality: Phoenix is part of a gorgeous and well-acted duet in Walk the Line and probably deserved more credit for that movie than he got. Sarsgaard kicked all sorts of righteous ass in Shattered Glass, and that's the movie I'll watch multiple times. Advantage: Sarsgaard
Fake Oscar Nods: Sarsgaard: 2 (Jarhead; Shattered Glass); Phoenix: 0
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Peter's quite the handsome man, but Joaquin, in my opinion, would make a striking male model. Hairlip or no.
Winner: Peter Sarsgaard 3-1
Patrick Wilson vs. Owen Wilson
Quantity: Just to ease your curiosity, no, Luke Wilson did not make this list, and wouldn't have if it was expanded to 128 actors. Patrick Wilson's career is very young yet, but he's already given some seriously great performances in things like Angels in America and Little Children. Owen Wilson, however, has been in about twenty-five some-odd movies in the past ten years, and even though nobody's getting credit for I Spy, he's still got the edge here. Advantage: Owen Wilson
Quality: We are big fans of Owen's work with Wes Anderson, but his work in The Royal Tenenbaums can't compete with what Patrick does in Angels in America. Advantage: Patrick Wilson
Fake Oscar Nods: Patrick Wilson: 0 (Angels was on HBO, or else Patrick would totally have one); Owen Wilson: 0. Push
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Damn, this is tough. For one thing, Patrick Wilson is one of the most aesthetically gifted human beings on the face of the Earth. On the other hand: Owen Wilson played Hansel in Zoolander. And we all know that Hansel is so hot right now. Advantage: Owen Wilson
Winner: Owen Wilson 2-1
Heath Ledger vs. Billy Bob Thornton
Quantity: This is a bit of a conundrum. We like Heath Ledger and have way back when he was doing teen comedies (10 Things I Hate About You) and Mel Gibson movies (The Patriot). We can say we're not all that fond of Billy Bob Thornton, either, but he's beaten us into submission with one fine performance after another (Primary Colors, The Man Who Wasn't There, Intolerable Cruelty). And in the end, he's just got more of them than Heath does. Advantage: Thornton
Quality: While Thornton's work in A Simple Plan is no slouch of a performance by any stretch, we prefer Ledger in Brokeback Mountain.
Fake Oscar Nods: Thornton: 1 (A Simple Plan); Ledger: 1 (Brokeback Mountain). Push
Spotlights Stolen: Both starred in Monsters Ball, and it's not just because the sight of a naked Billy Bob kind of made us go blind for a minute -- it's also because pound-for-pound Heath's damaged son packed more of a wallop -- that we preferred Ledger.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: It's not like Billy Bob's a stranger to dressing up nice, but even when Ledger's not trying (or trying very hard to look like he's not trying), he looks like a million bucks. Advantage: Ledger
Winner: Heath Ledger 3-1
John Cusack vs. Paul Giamatti
Quantity: Pity that we're looking into the window on Cusack's career where he began to fall out of favor. Sure, he was wonderful in Grosse Point Blank and Being John Malkovich, but in the same time frame, Giamatti began his rise from Pig Vomit (Private Parts) to invaluable character actor (The Negotiator) to prize-winning lead actor (American Splendor; Sideways). Advantage: Giamatti
Quality: Cusack's pretty much an archetype to himself in High Fidelity, but Giamatti's Sideways performance bests it.
Fake Oscar Nods: Giamatti: 2 (Sideways; American Splendor); Cusack: 0
Spotlights Stolen: They were both in the unremarkable ode to communism in the arts, Cradle Will Rock. Cusack's okay, but I barely remember Giamatti in it, so okay is good enough in this case. Advantage: Cusack
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Yeah...sorry, Paul. You may not need posture to win critics' awards, but this is something else entirely. Advantage: Cusack
Winner: Paul Giamatti 3-2
Jeff Bridges vs. John Goodman
Quantity: Goodman's occasionally brilliant on screen, but he seems to take up so much time making crappy sitcoms. On the other hand, Bridges works pretty sparingly as well, and his great work is tempered by pap like Arlington Road. In the end, it's a Push
Quality: We'll get to the unimaginable delight that is John Goodman in The Big Lebowski in a second. For now, I'll stake my claim that Jeff Bridges delivers a killer performance in The Door in the Floor and takes the category. Advantage: Bridges
Fake Oscar Nods: Bridges: 2 (The Door in the Floor; The Big Lebowski); Goodman: 1 (The Big Lebowski).
Spotlights Stolen: Ah, Lebowski. You already know our fondness for it. And asking us whether Bridges or Goodman gives the better performance is like asking us to choose between our children. Bridges is brilliant as the ur-slacker, and The Dude becomes such an indelible character but we ask you, when it's the Dude and Walter Sobchak on screen together, which one are you paying attention to? Goodman is unhinged as Walter in all the best ways, and about 75% of the quotable lines come from him, and it's all because of how much John Goodman rules the world in that role.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: We're telling you right now: someone needs to make this happen. John Goodman on the catwalk? Awesome. Still, remember that "What Condition My Condition Was In" sequence in Lebowski? The Dude descending the staircase? That, my friends, is a signature walk. Advantage: Bridges
Winner: Jeff Bridges 3-1
Brian Cox vs. Cillian Murphy
Quantity: For a newbie, Cillian Murphy has made quite the impression, with high-profile roles in low-key thrillers like Red Eye and 28 Days Later. Cox, however, has married a Hackman-esque ability to play a wide variety of roles to a John C. Reilly tendency to pop up everywhere. From The Bourne Identity to Deadwood to Zodiac, you can't escape him. Not that you'd want to. Advantage: Cox
Quality: Cox's sad pederast in L.I.E. versus Murphy's compact yet delightfully hammy Scarecrow in Batman Begins. You can tell Cillian's got something brilliant lurking in the near future, but for now, Cox takes it.
Fake Oscar Nods: Cox: 2 (L.I.E.; 25th Hour/Adaptation); Murphy: 0
Spotlights Stolen: Murphy headlined and Cox co-starred in Wes Craven's Red Eye. It's something of a thankless role for Cox, but Murphy doesn't exactly win this one by default. He delivers a legitimately scary performance in a movie that relies on the performances greatly. Advantage: Murphy
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Patrick "Kitten" Brady, Murphy's character in Breakfast on Pluto, isn't one of our favorite screen drag queens, but he gets the job done enough right here. Advantage: Murphy
Winner: Brian Cox 3-2
Brad Pitt vs. Denzel Washington
Quantity: Just so it's clear, we really do like Denzel Washington. When he's on his game and in a movie that challenges him (Training Day, The Hurricane), he's electric. Hell, he's even been known to enliven an otherwise blah movie (Inside Man), but too often he's asked to star in these middle-of-the-road nothing movies, plus the occasional Tony Scott mess. It doesn't add up to a ton of love here. Pitt's not immune to this either (Seven Years in Tibet; Troy), but he's amassed enough wild performances in interesting films (Snatch; Fight Club) and skillfully-chosen crowd-pleasers (Ocean's Eleven; Mr. and Mrs. Smith) to take the category. Advantage: Pitt
Quality: We love Pitt in Fight Club. He's a riot. But he doesn't prop up an entire film on his shoulders and carry it to much more than the "Our Checkered Racial Past" it could have been, like Denzel did in The Hurricane.
Fake Oscar Nods: Washington: 2 (Training Day; The Hurricane); Pitt: 1 (Fight Club)
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Tough call. They can both cast a James Bondian silhouette, and they can both put in that attitude, you can tell. But in modeling, youth is king, and Brad's got nine years on Grandpa Denzel. Advantage: Pitt
Winner: 2-2 HOLY CRAP IT'S S TIE! You knew one was coming. This one's a doozy, I think. Stake your claim, sports fans: are you on Team Brad or Team Denzel? Vote wisely and once, thank you.