Let’s fight: The best actors under 40

I few months ago I realized that everyone I thought of as the best actors working today are over 40. This startled me and got me to thinking about who are the top actors under 40, since they’re the ones who will take over, in a sense. I wrote out a list of nearly thirty names (over sixty when I included actresses, whom we’ll deal with next week), and started Netflixing away. Over the next couple of months, I began winnowing down my list. For example, I realized that while I like Shia LaBeouf and think he’s talented, he tends to make crap movies. The last few years have shown a dearth of good taste, a kind of lowest-common-denominator thinking that concerns me. Sure, Shia will deliver quality to your crappy blockbuster, but the result for him, as an actor, is a kind of stagnation I can’t admire. So he was removed from the list.

There are other criteria at play—I tried to be scientific about this. This isn’t just a taste call (although certainly my taste can’t be divorced entirely from it); I tried to use a set of objective standards in my judging process. My basic criteria are three things: body of work, diversity of work and recognition received. I was looking for, essentially, consistency—actors who deliver at the highest level again and again. Take Ben Foster. My taste dictates that he’s an amazing talent and should be on the list, but the formula I derived said otherwise (he’s made one too many bad movies). So I had to remove him in the name of objectivity.

You might be asking, Why did you only consider actors aged 25-39? I could never do this kind of thing for actors under 25 for the simple reason that they’re still unformed at that age. Still finding their feet. You don’t know how that’s going to translate into a mature career. What’s precocious at 17 might not work at 27. By 25, though, they’ve had time to amass a significant body of work, to diversify, to explore other media. Certainly we can point to certain people and say that they’re very talented and are bright prospects. But there’s a reason a lot of child actors fail to transition into adult careers. You have to be capable of making that leap in the first place.

Yesterday I asked the Twitter who were the best actors under 40. I wanted to input popular opinion into the final equation, though I’m sure we’ll be fighting over this anyway. When I got down to 20 actors I had to start making some tough calls and while Jake Gyllenhaal, Diego Luna, Anthony Mackie, James McAvoy and Elijah Wood didn’t make the final cut they were really close and deserve some recognition anyway. And now, on to the best actors.

Christian Bale

Where you’ve seen him: Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, American Psycho

Don’t miss him in: Velvet Goldmine

Where do you even start with Christian Bale? Do you know how hard it was to pick just ONE movie everyone should see him in? It’s debatable, because we all have different taste, but to me, Bale is the single best actor working under 40 today. To me great acting is the ability to convince me of anything and Bale can convince me of anything. It’s so cliché to say an actor is “chameleonic”, but that’s exactly what Bale is. He inhabits each character completely, often transforming his body to do so, but the real mark of Bale’s talent is his ability to crush everyone around him (I call this being a “screen tyrant”). Check him out in The Fighter, obliterating Mark Wahlberg in every scene. When Bale is on screen, you can’t look away. The only actor who’s come close to stealing his spotlight is Heath Ledger. The only other actor I can think of with that same tyrannical bent is Daniel Day-Lewis. Yeah, I said it. Christian Bale = Daniel Day-Lewis.

Benedict Cumberbatch

Where you’ve seen him: Sherlock, Atonement

Don’t miss him in: Hawking

I crush on talented guys. To me, being good at something is sexy. I don’t care if you’re a plumber, an athlete, or a lawyer—if you’re good at what you do you gain a unique confidence that is like crack to me. It’s not about being arrogant, it’s just being assured that you’re doing exactly the right thing for you and you’re doing it well. That’s Benedict Cumberbatch all over. Cumberbatch is just beginning to make his mark across the pond, but in the UK he’s widely regarded as one of their brightest talents. I’d have to agree. Film, television, theater—Cumberbatch lights it up wherever he goes. He even does radio! There is nothing he can’t do and he makes it all look so ridiculously easy. He’s getting the best work in film, television and theater so it’s only a matter of time before everyone stops making fun of his name (myself included) and starts taking him seriously.

Paul Dano

Where you’ve seen him: There Will Be Blood, Little Miss Sunshine

Don’t miss him in: Meek’s Cutoff

While everyone was watching Daniel Day-Lewis destroy the scenery in There Will Be Blood, Paul Dano quietly delivered one of the most impressive performances in the first decade of the 2000s. When I connected him to the morose, near-silent teenage son in Little Miss Sunshine, I was shocked. Same guy! But totally different! Dano is impossible to get a read on—you can’t extrapolate his real personality from his performances like you can with some actors. He’s an intensely focused performer who is a weird mix of choosy and accessible. He works in some of the most out-of-the-way movies being made yet pops up with small parts in stuff like Knight & Day and Cowboys and Aliens. Dano ducks the limelight, too, so his career will likely continue as a slow burn for years to come, but one day I promise we’ll all look around go, “You know that Paul Dano? He’s like, our best actor.”

Leonardo DiCaprio

Where you’ve seen him: Inception, The Aviator

Don’t miss him in: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

Has anyone transitioned from child actor to Serious Adult Actor better than Leonardo DiCaprio? Here’s how good an actor DiCaprio is: Going into The Departed I told myself, “Don’t get attached to anyone—everyone is going to die.” As the movie unfolded I kept chanting to myself, “Don’t care, don’t care, don’t care,” and still I got my hopes up. I was rooting for DiCaprio’s character, Costigan. I even started to think he was going to make it out okay. Leonardo DiCaprio, the man who’s made a career out of dying on screen, managed to convince me that he wasn’t going to die in a Martin Scorsese movie—the director who’s made a career out of killing characters. He made me care AGAINST MY WILL. Once a teen heartthrob, DiCaprio has had to fight to get taken seriously and short of Johnny Depp, I don’t think anyone has done a better job of making that leap.

Jesse Eisenberg

Where you’ve seen him: The Social Network, Adventureland

Don’t miss him in: Rodger Dodger

Of course Jesse Eisenberg would be on here, because he always makes the list. Eisenberg is the geek chic choice of the week for a lot of people, but to assign him only nerd status is to ignore that he’s got a face made for cold calculation. What made him so impressive in The Social Network wasn’t that he was believable as a socially awkward computer genius, but that he was believable as a stone-cold ruthless businessman. He’s an odd combination of vulnerable and unpredictable on screen. Eisenberg balances film work with off-Broadway plays and he sometimes writes (he has a play in development off-Broadway), and he’s a bit reclusive, which keeps him intriguing. Some people build careers on their face or their abs, others on an ability to tell a good joke. Eisenberg is building his on mystery.

Chiwetel Ejiofor

Where you’ve seen him: Children of Men, Love Actually

Don’t miss him in: Kinky Boots

The man with the most impossible name to pronounce, Chiwetel Ejiofor, is also the most under-served actor on this list. Like Cumberbatch, Ejiofor is a popular guy in the UK, but stateside he’s best known for supporting roles in stuff like American Gangster, 2012 and Salt. I first noticed Ejiofor in 2005’s Serenity, in which he played the unflappable Operative. It’s a chilling example how sometimes the scariest bad guys are the ones who never raise their voices. And his performance as Othello in London’s West End was equally chilling, though for different reasons, even in blurry bootleg form (he won an Olivier Award for it). Ejiofor has the ability to electrify at will—if he wants you to feel it, you’re going to feel it. But it was the dominance he displayed in Othello that really won my admiration. He’s got some Laurence Olivier voodoo working for him.

Michael Fassbender

Where you’ve seen him: X-Men: First Class, Inglorious Basterds

Don’t miss him in: Fish Tank

The Fassbender needs little introduction—this is his year with Jane Eyre, X-Men, David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method and Shame all opening in 2011. The Fassbender is what I like to call a “scene dictator”—a performer who dictates moods. He doesn’t dominate his scene partners like Bale and he’s not emotionally manipulative like DiCaprio and Ejiofor, but what The Fassbender does so well is control how a scene is going to go (Heath Ledger was also a scene dictator). This is why he stood out in Inglorious Basterds and it’s why everyone sat up and noticed him in 2008’s Hunger. The Fassbender doesn’t need grandiloquent speeches or gestures to get his point across. By thinning his lips he can make everything dark and scary. It made him a particularly effective Rochester in Jane Eyre. Directors love scene dictators because they add so much atmosphere to a movie just by showing up. The Fassbender is going to be highly in demand for many years to come.

James Franco

Where you’ve seen him: Pineapple Express, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man

Don’t miss him in: 127 Hours

I know, I know—you’re rolling your eyes. No one has worn out their welcome more than James Franco, but just because he’s more concerned with being an artiste right now doesn’t mean he stopped being an actor. 127 Hours was a master class of acting and it reminded me that Franco can throw down when he’s engaged with the material. Among American actors, Franco comes closest to being a screen tyrant, but he doesn’t do it all the time. He did it in 127 Hours but that was his movie start to finish. Franco is actually an underrated character actor—The Dead Girl, The Company, In the Valley of Elah and Milk all demonstrate his capabilities in a supporting role. Some actors are leading men and some are characters guys but Franco can be both. Yes, he’s annoying. Yes, he needs to go away for a while. But yes, he’s also a great actor.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Where you’ve seen him: Inception, (500) Days of Summer

Don’t miss him in: The Lookout

This is what I mean about not being able to predict how child actors turn out—who knew back in the 1990’s that JGL would turn out THIS good? The turn came in 2005 with Rian Johnson’s Brick, which also starred a guy named Noah Segan, who a lot of people thought would be something. Then 22, Segan showed a lot of promise. Now 27, he hasn’t delivered. JGL, meanwhile, has turned out to be a rare kind of leading man—one who makes you feel good despite bad circumstances. Maybe it’s that smile, or maybe it’s a less-defined, vaguely Jimmy Stewart-ish aura, but JGL is the perfect guy to headline your comedy about cancer (50/50), because he can deliver the emotional weight without making the audience want to kill themselves. But he can also go dark and twisted, such as in Hesher. JGL is old-fashioned—a good actor without any fancy tricks—and he’s just plain fun to watch.

Ryan Gosling

Where you’ve seen him: Blue Valentine, The Notebook

Don’t miss him in: Lars and the Real Girl

So The Gos hides out for a couple years only to reemerge the most in-demand actor in Hollywood. Was it that absence made our hearts grow fonder or would this have happened anyway? I think it was inevitable, whether The Gos took a break or not. Just 26 when he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for Half Nelson, The Gos has been on everyone’s radar for a long time. He’s talented, yes, but what sets The Gos apart is his taste level. He picks consistently interesting projects. If The Gos is attracted to it, it’s probably good. That doesn’t mean he’s immune to making bad movies—no one is—but that his career is and will be a mix of big and little films, populated by a lot of oddball characters. The Gos has the soul of a character actor with the face of leading man and a metric ton of charisma. He is Bale’s closest competition.

Honorable Mentions:

Ben Foster

Andrew Garfield

Tom Hardy

Eddie Redmayne

Michael Shannon

56 thoughts on “Let’s fight: The best actors under 40

  1. I agree with all of your picks although a couple of the names wouldn’t have come immediately to mind.

    I do think James McAvoy should have made the list. His performance in in The Last King of Scotland (as well as Atonement) was amazing. And Starter for 10 is one of my favourites.

  2. I was wondering where the hell I knew the guy in ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ from! Thanks for clearing that up!

    Also, do you really think Franco needs to go away for a while? Or does he just need to focus on one (ok, maybe 2) skills and go for it. For example, if stopped everything else and just acted, would you still think he needs to go away?

  3. Lindsay

    I also agree that James McAvoy belonged on this list. I’d actually argue that he should be there in place of Fassbender (who I find extremely overrated). I agree with the rest of your list though.

  4. Sarah

    Very interesting post. Thanks for your insight.

    However, I would like to hear more about your ratinoal as to why certain actors didn’t make the cut. For instance, McAvoy would have been near the top of my list. I find him very watchable in everything I’ve seen him in [although I have to admit that he was overshadowed by the Fassbender in X-men]. Starter for 10 is also one of my all-time-favourites.

    I haven’t seen much of some of those UK actors. I’ll have to check out some of their work. Thanks!

    1. Well there’s no accounting for taste, but…

      He kinda disappears into the woodwork to me. He’s a good actor, and I like him–he made the top 20!–but I tend to forget that he’s in things. He’s a great foil, but he too often gets overshadowed by his costars. Which is probably why he’s lately fallen into the role of straight man to everyone else’s crazy person (see also: The Last Station, X-Men, The Last King of Scotland).

  5. Kaylie

    Franco has done some good work, but he didn’t impress me at all in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Seemed like he was phoning it in or sleepwalking his way through the movie. I agree that he needs to go away for awhile.

    I’ve never heard of Benedict Cumberbatch or Eddie Redmayne, but I’m really happy to see Chiwetel Ejiofor on your list. That guy is so underrated.

    I think Bale and Fassbender would be my top 2. They have range.

  6. Perhaps it’s just me but don’t you think it’s a bit sad that only one of the actors on this list isn’t white?

    On a different note, I think Bale is a great actor, but I’m awaiting some kind of nuclear implosion from him. I just get this sense that he keeps his crazy locked up, and, at some point, it just has to get out.

  7. Kim

    What? No Timberlake?


    Not much of anything to fight about here. I worry that Franco’s ‘artiste’ may end up hurting future good movies in that people will be so irritated with him that they won’t see the movies he’s in, whether they’re good or not.

    And you’re right – if you were to ask for a list of the best actors just over 40 (say 40-55), the list would be massive.

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  9. Emme

    What the fuck is so mysterious about Jesse Eisenberg? That he doesn’t watch television and does Off-Broadway in his spare time? He plays the same fucking character in every movie. If you don’t believe me watch him in that 1 minute pretentious clip where all the Oscar nominated actors did and he had to play some sort of gangster. It was so unintentionally funny! This guy is so overrated and in Rodger Dodger he played the same nervous freak that he plays in all his movies. He is not the best actor under 40. He hasn’t built a career on being mysterious he’s built his career on being the nervous, socially awkward nerd!

    1. Spud

      To Emme,

      You sound angry. It is best to step away for a while and come back when you realise that it is just a blog about actors. If you think Jesse is undeserving, then make your own list and rectify the situation. It is no reason to pop a forehead vein or get a sprained finer from writing so hard.

      You are welcome!

      1. tsnfan

        Emme’s tone about Jesse sounds familiar… and very bitter! Is this because of the Oscar nomination Jesse got this year that pretty much validated that his Mark Zuckerberg was his career-best yet, far from all the roles he has done before (not that many of course, he is just 27)? Also if you watched the movie — I’m assuming you have watched it — there was barely a scene there where Mark was awkward. If anything, he was a manipulative, greedy and self-serving douche who deserved to be punched in the face or kicked on the balls, preferably at the same time (Eduardo should have done so!). Please pay attention to the movies you watch next time.

        Anyways, great list! I also would have loved to see Matthew Macfadyen (he’s an absolute chameleon) and Emille Hirsch (a little inactive now but definitely one great young actor).

    2. I totally agree with Emme. Jesse Eisenberg has never altered his voice, mannerisms, mood, or appearance for a role. This is the antithesis of an actor like Christian Bale, who changes his voice and mannerisms for every role. Why? Because they are actors portraying a myriad of very different characters. Eisenberg has shown an extremely limited acting skill set. Was Mark Zuckerberg the lead in Zombieland or did the lead in Zombieland invent Facebook? He sounds, acts, and looks like the same guy in every movie I’ve seen him in, which is about 3 movies: The Social Network, To Rome With Love, and Zombieland. He’s the same guy in all three films.

  10. LINA

    I don’t know what to feel about Christian Bale. I think he makes a pretty poor Batman. His stupid, deep voice is a distraction and i think you are supposed to have some sympathy for Bruce Wayne. I had it for Keaton, you can feel that he wants to have a personal life but he can’t because he has such responsibility.I can’t say i felt that for Bale, he was quite hard. I admire his ability to commit 100% and change his body etc.. but i can’t really say he does much for me. I am trying to think of a Bale film i enjoyed and i can’t, besides The Dark Knight – and that was due to other reasons. I saw him in a film, can’t think of the name. He played a relatively normal person in it, i think he was having marriage problems. He was v boring, as was the film. I think Bale could be good at comedy if he was willing to step away from the serious business. Remember him at the Golden Globes? He was funny! Also, you talk about diversity, and granted i have not seen all of his films, but has he diversified all that much? Even Gosling has taken on comedy – action too!.

    Speaking of, i agree totally about Ryan. I would also argue that he should get respect for transitioning from the Disney club and Young Hercules into serious actor. He should have gotten his first nomination at 19/20 for The Believer. He was amazing in that. Its so strange to see some treating Ryan like he is a new actor, or that suddenly is has become good. He has been around forever. Also – considering Gos is 30 and Bale is 37, i am interested to see just how good he will be at that age.

    Agree with everyone else on the list, well those i have heard of.

    I still don’t see the big deal made of Andrew Garfield. He kind of seems undeserving as he is so new. Boy A, NLMG, TSN … i will need to see more

    1. Weezy

      I agree that Bale’s Batman is not great (in fact, his is the worst modern incarnation), but I blame Nolan for that. Otherwise, Bale completely deserves to be on this list. And, Sarah, Heath Ledger absolutely stole that movie away from Bale.

      1. Anderson

        The worst modern incarnation? Have you seen Batman and Robin? Clooney is a joke. Keaton was a good Bruce Wayne, but is not an action star. Val Kilmer was negligible. Aside from his voice as batman he is pretty good. Overshadowed by Ledger but good form for Bale. Of the 4 Batmans, he is the only one who is both goodlooking enough to pull off the playboy Bruce Wayne and athletic enough and believable as an action hero.

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  12. Erica

    As an American, I rarely (never) see recognition for Ejiofor’s supreme awesomeness. Thanks for that!

    I agree with you about Ben Foster – blew me away in 3:10 to Yuma, but beyond that I can’t think of any of his films. He’s great, but the body of work isn’t there.

    1. tsnfan

      Most impressed with him in The Messenger. I’d say he has a more extensive body of work compared to the others here like Fassbender and Cumberbatch (not saying those two shouldn’t be on the list, they’re great).

      Anyways, ever since I watched Ben in Six Feet Under, he definitely became one to watch. But I agree his films have not exactly been ones to write home about — still, his performance always was, at least in the films I’ve seen him in – Xmen, Pandorum, Hostage. He’s an awesome actor, good to see him get more attention.

  13. Very impressed with your list except for Franco. I just cant take him seriously any more. i also think there are many actors as good has him. Cumberbatch is at the very top in my opinion (above anyone) so I’m thrilled to see him on your list. If I could swap any others I’d have Fassbender out and Shannon in.

    1. rantersparadise

      THIS is how I feel about Gosling! And I actually used to rate him as an actor before he became mr superstar hipster that MUST work with every cutting edge cool Director under the sun in one year. Breaking up random fights in NY wthat just happens to make it on E! news. Playing the banjo on crowded streets. The guys makes my skin boil he is so pretentious.

  14. Christiane

    SO glad Michael Fassbender is on the list. I don’t know how I only discovered him when Jane Eyre came out in March, but the man was mesmerizing in Hunger, Fish Tank, Inglourious Basterds & X-Men. There is something completely irresistible about his gaze and the delivery of his lines (I’m definitely not the only one… check out the Easter egg commentary of the Jane Eyre DVD! The, er, insights/tennis match-style commentary is quite hilarious).

  15. This is a great list, very well thought out and I can’t quibble with any of it. I haven’t seen Benedict Cumberbatch in anything other than Atonement, but I’ve heard the buzz about him in Sherlock so I’m willing to believe that he is a great actor.

    I too love James McAvoy and wish that he were on the list, but I can’t think of whose place he would take…all of the other actors also belong there, so I guess he’ll have to be #11.

  16. I can’t wait to read the actress list- because there will be some fighting there!

    First because the field of talented young actresses is so crowded that you’re going to have to make some serious cuts, and second because people seem to get more worked up about actresses than about actors.

  17. pearson2008

    I still can’t believe Christian Bale is under 40… he’s always seemed much older to me.

    I think this is a good list, can’t think of too many others I would have included. Maybe Colin Farrell? Sarah I’m surprised you didn’t put him in for In Bruges alone!

  18. Stephanie

    What about Anthony Mackie? I think he is an amazing actor. I enjoyed your list. Are you planning to have one for the actresses?

  19. Barb

    As the writers of “Sherlock” said while watching a scene from the show – Where is Benedict. They were seeing Sherlock Holmes, not the person they knew as Benedict. That’s a great actor.
    He always has been that and as time goes on and the world really sees him they will think that too. He gets good roles because the people involved with the movies or t.v. shows, or radio know they can depend on him to give them the best they could hope for. To The Ends Of The Earth it was commented on that he brought up the entire company, crew and all because of the committment he brought to his role.

  20. Angie

    @ mttabor: I can’t wait to read the actress list too.
    Under 40, Kate Winslet for sure (she is on almost everybody’s list). Samantha Morton is wonderful too and I love Marion Cotillard, so classy.
    I think Carey Mulligan, Emily Blunt and Michelle Williams are the best young actresses between 25-30. I love watching Anne Hathaway and Natalie Portman but I have always thought Natalie Never is a limited actress, she overacts a lot (stars war anyone? the other boleyn girl, and she is always the same. She is one of the most overrated with Scarlett Johansson).
    Under 25: Saoirse Ronan is wonderful, Mia Wasikowska is very talented too. Emma Stone, I love her but I fear that she’s a one-trick pony but she is very likeable like Mila Kunis.
    Melanie Laurent and Felicity Jones are great too but I didn”t watch them in a lot of movies.
    I love other actresses like Romola Garai, juno temple, Abbie Cornish (she was good in bright star and sommersault), eva green (dreamers) but they are not very famous (for now) and don’t get a lot of leading roles and Alison Lohan has totally disappeared (I liked her in white oleander and matchstick men). When bad actresses like Jessica Biel, Alba or Blake Lively pollute the silver screens.
    Love your blog, Sarah.

    1. anaishilator

      I told Sarah in another article that as far as movie actresses, we seemed to be stacked with a new girl breaking out every year.

      For girls under 40 you have jessica chastain, jennifer edwards, and the girls you mention like emma stone, ronan, carey mulligan. We still have bryce dallas howard, marion cotillard, emily blunt, anne hathaway, melanie laurent.

      nice to see juno temple get some love and romola garai.

      we are stacked with talented young actresses. the question is, who will be their leading man.

      Umm, eve green isnt so much an up and comer anymore, and she did that dreadful Camelot.

    2. rantersparadise

      There are many, many actresses who also haven’t chosen good vehicles. One os Kirsten Dunst. I think people will finally see her potential in Melancholia.

      Unlike Portman who like Di Caprio and Gosling is VERY good at choosing the perfect Directors, roles, vehicles that if she failed as an actress in them, it would be insane. Which is why she is so overrated because she stills comes off as she tries too hard.

  21. anaishilator

    AAAAAAAND Let’s Fight!

    So first off, when you say best actor, do you mean most popular, most potential for a movie star, or who really is down to the nuts and bolts, the best actor.

    Some choices I agree with, some choices I sympathize with even though I think they are a bit premature, some choices seem more like a popularity or sentimental grab. Anyway, here we go.

    Basically my number 1 was Leonardo for obvious reasons.
    1) he is a true Movie Star. As you said in another article, Christian Bale is a great actor, and famous but…..doesnt have that Movie Star quality where you need to the know the details of their life on and off the screen. Leo has that.

    2) he is truly a fantastic actor. And I mean ‘actor’. He doesnt simply play himself every role, he can portray a character. He may not be as expansive a character actor as Johnny Depp( who for all his acclaim is woefully underated imo), but still, he is a wide ranging Actor. So, best under 40 in all aspects, gotta be Leo.

    I agree with Bale.

    I think its a bit early for Cumberbatch and Dano, and while I know they are talented…its a bit early to call it. I know I seem hypocritical as I praised his talents in another article, but we are not talking about who is talented, we are talking about who is the best. I need to see more before I give him the crown. Honestly…and I know I will get some crap for this but….where is Adrien Brody? Yes his career has gone to shit, that doesnt mean he isnt a good actor. He won an oscar, that has to count for something. If anyone deserves a comeback, its Brody.

    I….can’t stand Jesse Eisenberg. But I accept he is a good actor.

    Ryan Gosling….does nothing for me but he seems a really versatile actor. Concur.

    James Franco is pretty overrated imo. I couldnt disagree more. I know he got nominated for an oscar but…that kind of role sort of begs for a nomination. He just always underwhelms me whenever I see him onscreeen.Disagree.

    Joseph Gordon Levitt seems more like a flavor du jour choice. I’d have replaced him with Dominic Cooper. Say what you want, the boy has charisma and from what I have seen, some pretty good acting chops.

    Chiweti Ekifor( or however you spell it) ALL DAY YES. That man is a great actor. Been a fan of his since Dirty Pretty Things, and he has been great in every movie he has done. Even Kinky Boots.

    Micheal Fassbender, yes yes and yes. When I first saw him in Inglorious Basterds, I couldnt take my eyes off of him. He has tremendous screen presence and he is just a good actor. Sky is the limit for that guy.

    As for the guys that almost made the list…I dont know if I agree with Ben Foster( and I LIKE ben,…very underrated actor) or Tom Hardy. Now dont get me wrong, I always had a feeling Tom Hardy would be a huge star, but Movie Star doesnt always mean best actor….Id still tap that all day though( cough).

    I agree, James McAvoy should have been on the list. He has been in some movies that have made loads of money, been acclaimed, and done the art house thing, and unlike Shia Lebouf, he has tremendous range as an actor.

    Honorable mention? And yes, I dont care about your age restriction, this is my instinctual, intuitive reaction….keep an eye on Anton Yelchin. And I also want to add Rupert Friend but…his work is still mostly obscure…and it doesnt help that he looks like Orlando Bloom.

    And, thats all I got til I think of some others.

  22. Weezy

    This is where we’re fighting: Leo doesn’t cut it in my eyes. In football QB terms, he’s a game manager. He doesn’t lose you the game, but doesn’t bring anything spectacular either. Honestly, I haven’t been impressed since Marvin’s Room. Back in the day, Leo could emote so beautifully…but, he was a teenager and that’s what they do. He does have good taste in his productions, but I think he’s picking a director not a vehicle. Is it just me, or have you noticed that he succeeds with people who can deliver visual spectacle? Clint doesn’t do that, so I’ll be interested to see how critics and audiences receive DiCapro in the Hoover movie.

    I would elevate James McAvoy in his place. I think McAvoy has proven himself, but still needs a knockout role. Or, Ben Whishaw. PLEASE, tell me that Whishaw was on the larger list. He’s probably not high-profile enough—but how many people other than cinephiles know who Paul Dano is? ( I love Dano. I’m not going to argue with Dano.) Will you ever post the large list that you whittled down?

    1. I have the worst editorial style ever–I write the first draft then start deleting and re-writing right over it. I don’t save previous drafts, which I don’t endorse as any kind of a good style. It’s just that I’m so lazy and all that copying, pasting, and saving seems like a lot of work.

      So, no. 🙂

  23. Christine

    In large part I like your picks, and I’m happy to see Chiwetel Ejiofor on the list.

    But you’re seriously putting Franco on the list and not James McAvoy? While I agree that Franco was excellent in ‘127 Hours,’ does an actor that too often phones it in when he’s not fully engaged with the material really deserve to be in your Top 10? Phoning it in is something McAvoy never does, and he has demonstrated amazing range–from the angry/tragic Rory in ‘Inside I’m Dancing’ to the funny/geeky Brian in ‘Starter for 10’ to the good-man-tragically-wronged Robbie in ‘Atonement’ and more. Even in popcorn movies like ‘Wanted’ and ‘X-Men: First Class’ McAvoy never gives less than 100%, and you can see a fine intelligence behind all of his characterizations.

    I too was dazzled by Forest Whitaker’s awards-sweeping performance in ‘Last King of Scotland,’ though I did take note of McAvoy. But it wasn’t until I saw McAvoy in ‘Atonement’ that I went back to watch his performance in LKOS and realized what a sharp, richly textured performance it was. I have to say I have never again overlooked McAvoy.

  24. AH

    I agree with Weezy completely. Leo doesn’t do it for me anymore. A great actor to me is someone who isn’t replaceable. It’s very hard to replace Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine or any of the other movies he has done but it’s SO easy to replace Leo in things like Inception or Blood Diamond. He’s the type who sits at home until he gets a good script with a good director and jumps on board. A great actor takes risks and that just isn’t Leo. Every single person you mentioned does exactly that EXCEPT Leo. He’s never the most interesting part of a movie. As far as his acting I’d say he doesn’t even have half of what Gosling has and that’s saying something. The biggest risk in Leo’s career is J Edgar and to be honest I feel like that movie is going to end up hurting his career. Yes, he might get an Oscar nomination or win the damn thing but audiences will not see him the same way again. Honestly, how many people are still going after Jake for being in Brokeback? Also, I’d replace give the honorable mention to Jesse and bump up Andrew who is more versatile and interesting than Jesse. Jesse IS mysterious but he’s only good because of that. Can you actually imagine him trying to be vulnerable? Can you see him crying? Are you laughing while you’re trying to picture him cry? Me too.

    1. rantersparadise

      Don’t understand what you mean by risk? Ae you saying a good actor should be risk adverse? To commercial and mainstream audiences? Surely as a true artist that is really, really souless?

      And re Gyllenhall, can you name a good film he has been in that has been anywhere near oscar contender after Brokeback?

      Can anyone? He is one actor who definitely sort of broke my heart after Brokeback. I really that he was about the art, especially after Donnie Darko but it seems he was biding his time to just play in commercial movies so he could become a Mooovie Stah.

      Prince of Persia anyone?

  25. Nikki

    I think it is an interesting list and I agree with many of your choices. Di Caprio makes the list in my opinion because his work is consistently good. Even in his less impressive movie outings, his performances are always excellent. Also, he managed to almost skip an awkward phase and transitioned from great performances as a teen, (This Boy’s Life, the Basketball Diaries, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) to excellent work as an adult. My only quam with Leo is that he doesn’t take real risks in his script selection.

    I agree about Bale. He is a masterful actor- he has so much talent and this ability to just transform himself in every role. I think he is an incredible actor and will continue to impress us.

    Yes, Yes, yes to the Fassbender. He is mesmerizing. When I saw him in Basterds I left the theater wondering who this guy was and where the hell had he been? When he is on screen you cannot look away from him. What makes him so great as an actor is that he uses his body language as a weapon. From how he tilts his head, to how he holds a cigarette, it always reveals a lot about the character he is playing. I think he is the only actor on this list, who can do so much without dialogue.

    Oh Ryan Gosling… I love him. I think he is the most versatile of the actors on this list. He takes risks in his roles and he pushes his own boundaries which bodes well for his future. I find him painful to watch on screen sometimes because his reactions are always so visceral, so human that I fell like I am peering into someone’s real life and it is an invasion of privacy. Half Nelson, Blue Valentine, The Believer are all stunning performances. More than any actor on this list, I think we can look forward to an array of interesting roles from him and more stunning work.

    JGL- the Lookout, Brick, nuff said.
    Not sure about Dano and Eisenberg yet. Both give amazing performances(Eisenberg especially in the Soical Network) but the body of work is not there yet and I need to see more range before putting them on the list.

    Loved the nod to the British Boys but I stand by my comments about a lack of a body of work. I have only seen Cumbebatch in Sherlock(where he was admittedly brilliant) and Ejiofor in a few projects(fab in all) so time will tell on those as well.

    I am angry that James McAvoy off the list. Good range, great talent, and an ability to translate an earnest everyman on screen that only JGL can match at least on this list. Loved him in Atonement, Starter for 10, and Last King of Scotland. Where I really took note of him was in the British tv mini series, State of Play(2003 I think). He played a small supporting role but his work was really solid in that and I can’t picture anyone else in the role which usually is one of my tests on how great an actor is.

  26. rantersparadise

    I have to add John Hamm to this list who just makes it under 40. Boy dos he have range.

    And he is the perfect person for me to launch into my TV actor/actresses rant.

    We’re all too smart and aware to not know that Hollywood like any industry is designed via nepotism to back handed deals.

    But Hollywood I would say is even worse then the music industry which I worked for. Why? Because yes, there were talentless artists who slept with some A&R dude and the record company would put a hefty amount behind them took them work/sell BUT if they did not sell after the first album,they were always more then likely dropped from the label. The casting IS the music biz but at the end of the day, if you can’t sing OR you don’t have the fans,then your presence is hard to sell to the public or press which can hurt a record companies rep.

    In Hollywood as we’ve unfortunately seen via our favorite movies being ruined by bad actors with great agents, it’s not the case. You can consistently flop-Scarlett Johanssen-or act really badly-Jude Law-and this will not unfortunately effect your ability to be put in great films before much more well deserved less cunning actors/actresses.

    But something is happening now. And I think this has a lot to do with the Internet age-instant feedback & vocal interactive fans. That is that it is not such a taboo to be a TV actor and many are now able to crossover to film, whilst still doing TV roles. Furthermore, many are visible in the media with fans help, making them share the spotlight with movie stars, which in turns means, they are given the chance to star in movies, whereas before because if the Hollywood bias,they would’ve been ignored.

    I look forward to seeing more Jon Hamm in movies as well as quite a few others that I won’t bother to list but I think will make your list in the next 2 years.

  27. arun

    I think the ability to completely inhabit a character like they call it soul possession as shown by bale in rescue dawn, public enemies and the fighter. the people he played or their families recognized and reportedly unnerved by how much bale was like them in the movies is the real measure of great acting. His performances, even acknowledged by people who don,t like bale so much said his performances in many of his movies were delivered with laser precision.

    Bale performs exceptional to the character without showing of any screen persona as to interfere with our view of the character. Those are the markings of a true actor though i agree that not of a movie star. If i were you i would give far lesser weight to the movie star and more to the acting qualities. Even Bale acknowledged that most of his career he is not the top[ bankable star. As an earlier post rightly pointed out that like lea we don’t know about his personal life which a movie star is to be more open about.

    If an actor relies mostly on persona and looks and relatively less on acting then you can look at any role and go wow! Look at him go how mysterious! what Charisma! What Charm! I can’t take his eyes off him. These are markings of a great movie star and screen personality and i admire that greatly and many actors i admire are like that. But not exactly the markings of a true dedicated actor and Bale is like that though he is also arguably charismatic.

    Like Paul Newman said, when you look into an actors eyes you can see the effort of the actor to become the character but it is not the pinnacle of great acting but attempt to reach it. Bale has reached this pinnacle in my opinion. Not to say that he is perfect. I have to see him in more roles to see that.

    But me personally i don,t take much stock in the movie star thing, though Sarah, i see your point. And also people can also only play the roles they get. So i have a problem with so-called crappy movies they get.

  28. arun

    And to ad furthermore, we see the same problem with Batman. His was the true feral, ferocious Batman with aloof traumatized Bruce Wayne in the original comics. The earlier movies showed of the screen persona of the actors like Keaton, Kilmer and Clooney. and the movies relied on that.

    The psychology of Bruce Wayne and his motivations are dealt with in the Bale’s movies. I think that’s what Christopher Nolan intended when he want to make the movies even before casting Bale.

    As far as the Batman voice, he need to be really intimidate psychologically for himself and the villains for the man in the costume to function as a psychologically-transformed crime fighter.If anything, we can only accuse them of making it too realistic and taking out the old movie effect.

  29. Spiralina

    To me Tom Hardy is the best actor under 40 working right now…I haven’t seen him opposite Bale so I can’t compare the two, but he consistently blows everyone else off the damn screen. He is one of the few younger actors who can project a palpable sense of menace and unpredictability – you have no idea what he’s going to do next. Unfortunately he’s mostly done small pictures that not many people have seen (Bronson, Warrior etc.) and his awesomely expressive face will be covered in his blockbuster debut (Dark Knight Rises). But I hope he gets more work in American films, because he is truly great.

  30. Christer

    God list.
    Jesse Eisenberg plays the same character in every movie. He should be replaced with Ben Foster. Eisenberg has been successful, but has a lot more to prove when it comes to raw talent.
    James McAvoy belongs on this list. Chiwetel Ejiofor is boring.

  31. Pingback: Telugu Reviews, News, BollyWood Reviews, Hollywood News - Flick Images

  32. Jesse Eisenberg, as many have said here on this thread and elsewhere on the Web, is not a good actor. He plays the same character, i.e. himself, in every role I’ve seen him. This is excruciatingly evident in To Rome With Love if you want to confirm because you’ve only seen him as Zuckerberg or the guy in Zombieland, again, i.e. himself. The omission of Joaquin Phoenix is unforgivable. He is clearly a Top 3 actor of his generation. Christian Bale, Phoenix, and DiCaprio are the best three actors under 40, followed by Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, James McAvoy, and Cillian Murphy. My Top 4 actresses under 40: Kate Winslet, Jennifer Lawrence, Saoirse Ronan, and Jessica Chastain.

    1. Goal

      you damn right sir!
      Di caprio, Phoenix, Bale are the best actor under 40, i even dare to said they are comparable to greats like Di Niro or Pacino (maybe after a couple more movies), they have both acting talent and “aura” persona to dominate the whole movie
      As after them there are gosling, ejiofor, fassbender and mc avoy

  33. Pingback: You were right, I was wrong: James McAvoy edition | Cinesnark

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