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).
In Damon's corner:
The Rainmaker; Good Will Hunting; Rounders; Dogma; The Talented Mr. Ripley; Ocean's Eleven; Gerry; Will & Grace; The Bourne Identity; Eurotrip; The Bourne Supremacy; Ocean's Twelve; Syriana; The Good Shepherd; The Departed; The Bourne Ultimatum.
In McKellen's corner:
Gods and Monsters; Apt Pupil; X-Men; Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; X2: X-Men United; Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; The DaVinci Code; X-Men: United.
Advantage: Matt Damon
In Damon's corner:
Detective Sergeant Colin Sullivan, desperate and devious undercover bad guy within the Boston PD, blah blah blah, we've all seen The Departed. Damon gives the best performance in the film, despite nearly everybody else in the cast getting singled out before he did. How someone who's been as high profile as Damon has been for ten full years can be so underrated is kind of mind-blowing, but it happens to him time and again: in Ripley (Jude Law gets the Oscar nomination), in Ocean's Eleven and Syriana (Clooney nabs the Oscar for the latter and an evergreen public persona for the former), in Eurotrip (the recent Sarah Silverman video wasn't his first foray into "I fucked your girlfriend" musical performance). Anyway, he's the shizz in The Departed and not enough people seem to want to recognize that.
In McKellen's corner:
Frankenstein director James Whale, whose bittersweet final days were performed perfectly by McKellen, in a performance for the ages. Let's take a little trip back to 1998, then, and the Best Actor race at the Oscars. We have McKellen, whose performance I have yet to shut up about, Nick Nolte in Affliction (another career-best performance that took the six or seven people who saw that movie by storm), Edward Norton in American History X (a shocking, frightening performance that cemented Norton as the premier actor of his generation at the time), a Tom Hanks performance in Saving Private Ryan that was admittedly a place-saver but still admirable, and then...Benigni. The Holocaust clown. Who thought winning an Academy Award was quite the spicy meat-a-ball. Are you feeling the anger anew? I know I am.
Advantage: Ian McKellen
Fake Oscar Nods: McKellen: 2 (Gods and Monsters; LotR: The Fellowship Of The Ring); Damon: 2 (Ocean's Eleven; The Departed). Push
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Reader Vote: Matt Damon takes it by a one-vote margin. Shoulda voted, disgruntled Anglophiles!
Motherf*cking Walkoff: So McKellen's been cleaning up in this category, what with his "suave old man on the make" routine, and rightfully so. Damon's been getting by on his Sexiest Man Alive thing, which we all know isn't quite the case, but we forgive it anyway because he's, what, Top 5? 10? He's up there. They both always look presentable on a red carpet. Neither would act all too-cool-for-school about throwing on some Armani for a charity fashion show. They're the best. Except ever since he's been fucking Sarah Silverman, Damon's got a bit of a swagger to his step and a sparkle in his eye. Could that be enough?
Advantage: ...Matt Damon
Winner: Matt Damon 3-1
So thanks to all readers, commenters, voters, and that special class of you that's all three. I know it took me for-fucking-ever to finish this thing, so I thank you for your patience...and I'll thank you in advance for your patience the next time I do one of these things.