64 men enter. One man leaves.
A few words on the criteria: I'm only taking into account performances from the past ten years (1996 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 '96 (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).
Johnny Depp vs. Ian McKellen
Quantity: For an iconoclastic artiste like Johnny Depp, he sure works a lot. And he sure made a hell of a lot of crap in the late 1990s. Still, he made enough good ones (Sleepy Hollow; Pirates 1) and enough so-so ones (Secret Window; Pirates 2) to make up for the bad ones that don't count (The Astronaut's Wife; Pirates 3). Advantage: Depp
Quality: Depp's newfound crown jewel of the last ten years, murderous barber Sweeney Todd, presents an interesting challenge to Ian McKellen's James Whale. Neither will win the Oscar they've got coming to them. Whale manages to be quietly devastating while Sweeney's devastation is a bit more...overt. Subtlety reigns, as ever. Advantage: McKellen
Fake Oscar Nods: McKellen: 2 (Gods And Monsters/LotR: The Fellowship Of The Ring); Depp: 1 (Pirates of the Caribbean)
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Yikes! Difficult! Depp's certainly got what Tyra would call a signature walk, all carefully calibrated flamboyance and bohemianism. Plus, he's been legally adopted by France at this point, and you know how seriously they take their fashion. And yet: Ian McKellen. Remember that scene in X-Men where we see Magneto in his lair and he walks across this makeshift walkway of free-floating metal sheets that he controls with his mind. It may have defied all laws of physics, even allowing for the fact that he controls all metal (sure, the steel sticks to his feet, but wouldn't he and the metal just go plummeting to the ground?), but he worked that quasi-runway. Advantage: McKellen
Winner: Ian McKellen 3-1
Matt Damon vs. Clive Owen
Quantity: Total blowout. It seems every time I write a new one of these Matt Damon picks up a new credit. Welcome, The Bourne Ultimatum, to Matt Damon's ever-expanding c.v. Advantage: Damon
Quality: Let's talk, shall we, about Clive Owen's performance in Closer. How he can manage to be disgusting, charming, attractive, domineering, whimpering, sexy, sexist, predatory, overmatched, witty, boorish, conniving, and monstrously petty all at once is a sight to behold. The scene in the strip club alone, a pas de deux between Clive and Natalie Portman that's just as riveting every time I see it, should have been enough on its own to earn them both Oscars. Advantage: Owen
Fake Oscar Nods: Damon: 2 (The Departed; Ocean's Eleven); Owen: 1 (Closer). [Confession: I've been totally short-changing Matt Damon all this time by forgetting the fact that I'd totally have nominated him for Ocean's Twelve. Such an underrated performance, but it's easily my favorite in the movie.]
Spotlights Stolen: Do you remember Clive Owen being in The Bourne Identity? Neither do I. Advantage: Damon
Motherf*cking Walkoff: So here we are. Matt Damon: Sexiest Man Alive, as determined by science and People magazine. Clive Owen: the James Bond-er of the two by a rather wide margin. No matter who loses, we all win, is my opinion. By a margin as slim as a quantum of solace...Advantage: Owen
Winner: Matt Damon 3-2
So, by God, after six months, two home cities, and endless reader frustration (sorry, guys -- thanks for sticking around!), we've arrived at our finale: Matt Damon versus Ian McKellen. As we did in the Actress Tournament, I'm going to put this up for a readers' vote ahead of time, just so the ultimate winner isn't an anti-climax. So here's your space kids: vote for your winner wisely and once.