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).
Heath Ledger vs. Edward Norton
Quantity: Much like Brad Pitt and The Assassination of Jesse James, Ledger suffers for me not having seen I'm Not There yet. I mean, there's no guaranteeing I'd like those performances, but the odds are in their favor. Instead of a category win, Heath settles for a Push
Quality: Norton's tricksy-but-relatable work in Fight Club goes up against Ledger's much-ballyhooed Brokeback Mountain performance. It's ballyhooed for a reason. Advantage: Ledger
Fake Oscar Nods: Norton: 2 (American History X; Fight Club); Ledger: 1 (Brokeback Mountain).
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Well, Heath, perhaps if you didn't go out of your way to continually show up at events and in photos like an unkempt undergraduate with an 8 AM class, you might stand a better chance here. Not to mention if you stuck around in Brooklyn long enough for me to spot you getting coffee somewhere. Enjoy Australia, mate. Advantage: Norton
Winner: Edward Norton 2-1
Ian McKellen vs. Peter Sarsgaard
Quantity: You know, Ian McKellen really needs to make another movie, if only so I can stop feeling bad for the fact that not hating his DaVinci Code performance is proving to be the difference in some of these competitions. Advantage: McKellen
Quality: Much love, as always, to Peter Sarsgaard in Shattered Glass, and much credit to the man for being the best thing going in at least half the films he's in, but McKellen's sad, majestic James Whale in Gods and Monsters continues to stand tall. Advantage: McKellen
Fake Oscar Nods: McKellen: 2 (Gods and Monsters; Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring); Sarsgaard: 2 (Shattered Glass; Jarhead). Push
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Looking through Sarsgaard's filmography, it's tough to find even one character able to work it as fiercely as McKellen's Whale, or as sagely as Gandalf, as world-dominatingly as Magneto, or as...you know, I was going to bring Apt Pupil into this discussion but I'm grossing myself out, so never mind. Advantage: McKellen
Winner: Ian McKellen 3-0
Alec Baldwin vs. Jude Law
Quantity: Two of the heaviest hitters in the numbers game, Baldwin and Law have each put in a solid decade of performances, both big and small. After seeing and enjoying Law in last winter's little-seen Breaking and Entering, their credits end up matching exactly. Advantage: Push
Quality: In a battle of two pitch-perfect comic performances, Law's high-strung golden boy in I Heart Huckabees falls to Baldwin's unparalleled Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock. Advantage: Baldwin
Fake Oscar Nods: Law: 3 (The Talented Mr. Ripley; A.I.; I Heart Huckabees); Baldwin: 0.
Spotlights Stolen: Both had small roles in The Aviator, but Law's Errol Flynn cameo was both smaller and pound-for-pound less impressive than Baldwin's aeronautical rival. Advantage: Baldwin
Motherf*cking Walkoff: While it's a fact that Baldwin can still rock a tux (it’s after six, what was he, raised on a farm?), Law still hasn't managed to let infidelity and (have we mentioned?) unwashed hair piss away all of his dashing charm. He'd better watch it, though. Advantage: Law
Winner: 2-2. HOLY CRAP IT'S A TIE! Vote.
Johnny Depp vs. Bill Murray
Quantity: Sweeney Todd couldn't come soon enough to give Depp the (razor's) edge in this close (shaven) face-off (literally). He's a barber who cuts people's heads off! Get it? Anyway, credit this to poor timing on Depp's part. Push
Quality: It's 2003 all over again as Murray's Lost in Translation performance goes up against Depp's original Jack Sparrow. And as it would have happened if I'd had a vote, Murray would have come out ahead, much as I love both performances deeply. Advantage: Murray
Fake Oscar Nods: Murray: 2 (Lost in Translation; Rushmore); Depp: 1 (Pirates of the Caribbean).
Spotlights Stolen: Both appeared in Ed Wood (the Spotlights Stolen category is exempt from the 10-year eligibility period, as you may have previously noticed; basically because I said so, that's why), and while Murray fit in reasonably well with Tim Burton's cast of weirdos, Depp stole that show pretty easily, I think. Advantage: Depp
Motherf*cking Walkoff: He may rock the runway staggering like Captain Jack, but he'll rock it nonetheless. Advantage: Depp
Winner: 2-2. HOLY CRAP IT'S A TIE! Vote wisely and once, you know the deal.
That's two ties, folks. Please vote for both in the comments.