64 men enter. One man leaves.
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).
Daniel Craig vs. Jeff Daniels
Quantity: You know, when Jeff Daniels takes the time to star in a movie that's actually worth a damn (The Hours; Good Night and Good Luck), he's quite good. The problem is he's also making movies like RV and Because of Winn Dixie. Craig, meanwhile, has taken a Shermanesque march to leading man status, from Road to Perdition to Layer Cake to James Bond himself. Advantage: Craig
Quality: Daniels's divorced dad in The Squid and the Whale is something of a masterful narcissist, and while Craig's Bond in Casino Royale was a hit with audiences and critics, it's not quite the same. Advantage: Daniels
Fake Oscar Nods: Daniels: 1 (The Squid and the Whale); Craig: 0
Spotlights Stolen: They were both in Infamous, which I only saw recently . I liked Craig's performance in fits and starts, though I'm not entirely sure all of it hangs together, and sometimes he comes across as a very broadly-drawn Sensitive Criminal. Still, his high marks are more impressive than Daniels, who is good, but not really in a position to be remarkable. Advantage: Craig
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Nothing we've seen out of Daniels suggests he'd be able to work a runway. Certainly not well enough to compare to Craig's poured-into-that-tux suaveness. Advantage: Craig
Winner: Daniel Craig 3-2
Robert Downey Jr. vs. Mark Ruffalo
Quantity: It's kind of a widely held belief that the tragedy of Robert Downey Jr.'s problems with drug addiction is that he's such a gifted actor when he's able to pull himself together, and we certainly agree he brings a presence and a charisma to the screen that's tough to replicate and films like Wonder Boys and A Scanner Darkly are better for it. Ruffalo has ended up in far too many throwaway romantic comedies (13 Going on 30; View From the Top) for an actor with his talents, not to mention big important films in which he was given next to nothing to do (Collateral; All the King's Men). The fact that he's yet to get another opportunity like You Can Count On Me is disappointing, but he's been able to elevate enough of the material he's been given to force a Push.
Quality: Downey Jr. was phenomenal and hilarious in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Just an unexpectedly wonderful performance. Sadly, I can't give him the category as -- have you heard? -- I'm something of a fan of the lead performances in You Can Count On Me. Ruffalo rocks.
Fake Oscar Nods: Downey Jr.: 1 (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang); Ruffalo: 1 (You Can Count On Me). Push
Spotlights Stolen: Fortunately enough, both men recently starred alongside each other in David Fincher's Zodiac, and they both gave fantastic performances, too. Ruffalo, pound-for-pound, shoulders more of the story, but Downey steals every scene, as he generally does. Advantage: Downey Jr..
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Tough one! Kind of. I mean, Mark Ruffalo's a handsome man, but then again he does, more often than not, present something of a rumpled exterior. Downey, meanwhile, is a born diva. Advantage: Downey Jr.
Winner: Robert Downey Jr. 2-1
Jake Gyllenhaal vs. Paul Rudd
Quantity: Paul Rudd is so awesome. Seriously, just watch Wet Hot American Summer, Anchorman, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and now Knocked Up on a continuous loop and see what I mean. He's an all-star. But so is Jake Gyllenhaal, and he's had more of a chance to show it off, now that he's become the It Boy of his generation. Advantage: Gyllenhaal
Quality: Choosing Jake's best role is a challenge, but I still don't think he's quite lived down the broody and sad work he delivered in Donnie Darko. Rudd's Wet Hot rebel jack-off is spot-on, but Jake's the better here.
Fake Oscar Nods: Gyllenhaal: 0; Rudd: 0. Push
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: I think I'd lose my gay status if I voted the wrong way here. Advantage: Gyllenhaal
Winner: Jake Gyllenhaal 3-0
Jim Carrey vs. Morgan Freeman
Quantity: Over the years, Jim Carrey's career has been pretty sharply divided, for me, between the performances I love (The Truman Show; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and those I have little use for (almost everything else). Most annoying is when he mars an otherwise wonderful movie like Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events with his infernal mugging. You know who's hardly ever annoying? Morgan Freeman. God love that man. Even if it's beginning to seem that no one in Hollywood has any idea what to do with him besides sticking him with a voice-over and having him be all inspirational, he still delivers the goods. And every once in a while, he'll get something juicy, which...well, give me a second. Advantage: Freeman
Quality: Okay, so marinate for a moment on Freeman in Nurse Betty, an underrated movie in which Freeman manages to be even more underrated. But see the movie again if you don't remember how sad and sweet and affecting Freeman was. On the other side of the aisle, we have Jim Carrey who, by 2004, had been doing the "two paychecks, one real movie" dance for a while. Seeing a more serious side of Ace Ventura was no longer a novelty. And even still it was hard not to be blown away by his work on Eternal Sunshine. Just keeping up with Kate Winslet would be a hard enough task, but Carrey even manages to carve out more than his share of the film all for himself. Advantage: Carrey
Fake Oscar Nods: Carrey: 3 (Eternal Sunshine...; Man on the Moon; The Truman Show); Freeman: 1 (Nurse Betty).
Spotlights Stolen: Both were in Bruce Almighty, a speck of a film where Carrey aired out his limbs once more, while Freeman managed to live up to his billing as God. We'll say that again: Freeman was equal to the task of playing God. Advantage: Freeman
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Oh, like Jim Carrey could make it from one end of a runway to the other without breaking character and acting a fool. Advantage: Freeman
Winner: Morgan Freeman 3-2
Benicio Del Toro vs. Hugh Jackman
Quantity: Sure, half of Jackman's contributions come from the X-Men series, but frankly, Wolverine's worth it. But it wouldn't have been enough to snag the advantage here without his 2006 output which ranged from the solid (ThePrestige) to the spectacular (The Fountain). Advantage: Jackman
Quality: Del Toro's work in Traffic was outstanding and deserving of the Oscar it earned. On the other hand, and maybe because it's fresher in my mind right now, Jackman's work in The Fountain continues to astound me. Impressive and unexpected and emotional and deeply affecting. Advantage: Jackman
Fake Oscar Nods: Del Toro: 2 (Traffic; 21 Grams); Jackman: 1 (The Fountain)
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Del Toro has a certain charm, I'm sure. But much of that charm involves equal parts slouching and smoking a cigarette. Meanwhile, Jackman's on Broadway and strutting around Nevada in the Viva Laughlin promos. This one ain't close. Advantage: Jackman
Winner: Hugh Jackman 3-1
Leonardo DiCaprio vs. Jason Lee
Quantity: It's a close race, mostly because I'm not the biggest fan of all of DiCaprio's highest-profile work. He's lucky Jason Lee spent about three years in crap like Stealing Harvard and Dreamcatcher before he found My Name Is Earl. Advantage: DiCaprio
Quality: We're big fans of Lee's funny and unexpectedly touching work in Chasing Amy, but DiCaprio managed to be a strong anchor for Scorsese's The Aviator, and he's really impressive in it. Advantage: DiCaprio
Fake Oscar Nods: Lee: 1 (Chasing Amy); DiCaprio: 0
Spotlights Stolen: They've never appeared onscreen together.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Sorry, Jason. That extreme sports history of yours won't help you much against a guy who looks that good on a red carpet. Advantage: DiCaprio
Winner: DiCaprio 3-1
Ed Harris vs. Gary Oldman
Quantity: Both men were Hollywood's go-to supporting actors through the 1990s, though Harris has transitioned into a sometime-leading-man, at least when he's directing (Pollock) or it's on TV (Empire Falls). Harris's ability to convincingly play hero or villain -- as opposed to Oldman's perfection of villainy -- probably accounts for Harris's margin of victory here.
Quality: Oldman's work as the ferret-like antagonist in The Contender was probably worthy of the Oscar nomination that went to Jeff Bridges from that film. But it pales in comparison to Harris's accomplishment in his auteur's vision of Jackson Pollock. He was nominated for an Oscar, and in that same year, but he also should have won. Advantage: Harris
Fake Oscar Nods: Harris: 2 (The Truman Show; Pollock); Oldman: 1 (The Contender).
Spotlights Stolen: They were both in the early-'90s crime flick State of Grace with Sean Penn. As you might expect, Oldman's turn is brash and loud while Harris's is quieter and, in our opinion, better. Advantage: Harris
Motherf*cking Walkoff: He's a good-looking man, but Ed Harris has always impressed us as kind of a grump. Oldman, however, has a bit of a flair to him. Advantage: Oldman
Winner: Ed Harris 4-1
Bill Murray vs. Sam Rockwell
Quantity: Yeah, sometimes it feels like Bill Murray keeps playing the same guy over and over again -- in Rushmore and The Life Aquatic and Broken Flowers. Sad sack misanthropes with a serious deadpan. Thing is, he's really good at it, evidenced by the Oscar nomination for Lost in Translation. Sam Rockwell has racked up credits by playing more dangerously cracked (and wrongly sexy, let's admit) characters, in Heist, Matchstick Men, and The Green Mile. They manage to battle things out to a Push.
Quality: Rockwell was on fire in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, but we'll take the apotheosis of Murray in Lost in Translation.
Fake Oscar Nods: Murray: 2 (Lost in Translation; Rushmore); Rockwell: 1 (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind)
Spotlights Stolen: They were both in that bastion of fine cinema, Charlie's Angels. Murray kind of mailed it in, perhaps because he hated his co-stars, perhaps not. The only thing we do know is that Sam Rockwell turned an absolutely nothing role into a hot ball of awesome. Advantage: Rockwell
Motherf*cking Walkoff: We're of the mind that if Sam Rockwell really committed to it, he could be the hottest runway model in all the land. Sorry, Bill.
Winner: 2-2 HOLY CRAP IT'S A TIE! You know the drill: vote your preference wisely, vote your preference once.