Over the last few months, The Snooty Ushers have been putting our collective heads together and coming up with the definitive list of our favourite actors. Now we must stipulate here, the key word is favourite, we can promise some controversial choices and a no.1 you will never see coming. Parts 2 and 3 will be making their way to the site soon, so keep an eye out!
So let’s kick things off with the countdown, starting with 25-16…
No. 25 – Paul Bettany
James: It was when writing my “Dependables” column about him, I realised just how versatile Paul Bettany is. His breakthrough role was in Gangster No. 1 in 2000 playing the younger version of Malcolm McDowell’s character, and brings a level of intensity and violence that makes the film stand out in the slew of gangster drek that came out in the early 2000s. He then followed it up as comic relief in A Knight’s Tale a year later, which proved he could bring the funny as well, and a supporting roles in Russel Crowe’s Oscar-laden A Beautiful Mind and Master and Commander.
This led to a role in Lars von Trier’s Dogville, which is probably remembered as one of the Nicole Kidman’s serious films after winning an Oscar for The Hours. Maybe as a reaction to that, he was brilliant in Wimbledon, as a washed up English tennis veteran who meet Kirsten Dunst and is inspired to win Wimbledon. From there, he moved full time to Hollywood and had supporting roles in The Da Vinci Code, Iron Man, and The Avengers. His upcoming role in the future Marvel films as The Vision will hopefully push him into more leading man roles.
Engaging in every role that he has taken, Paul Bettany is a great way to start off The Snooty Ushers Top 25 favourite actors.
Favourite Role: Michael, Legion (Scott Stewart, 2010)
This a favourite actors list, and this is my favourite Paul Bettany role. In what will be a a recurring theme in this list, it isn’t his most successful role, it isn’t his most critically acclaimed role, it isn’t his best role, but it is my favourite role of his. He plays the archangel Michael who comes to Earth to give humanity a fighting chance against Gabriel and his Legion (that’s the title!) after God loses faith in humanity and brings about the end of days. Paul Bettany transforms into a true action hero, showing that he really can do it all!
24. Gary Oldman
Welshy: A remarkable actor who has a long and distinguished repertoire of films. A British actor with an enormous cult following, including more than just civilians. Actors such as Tom Hardy, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Jason Isaac, Colin Firth, John Hurt, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Anthony Hopkins all cite him as either anything from an inspiration to a a credit to work with and everything in between.
He was known in the late 90’s mainly for his villain and criminal roles in films like Leon, The Fifth Element, State of Grace, True Romance and The Firm. He then gained greater recognition amongst a new audience as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter franchise and James Gordon in the Nolan’s Batman series.
His acting style is one of layers; finding a different voice, style, look and tone that is fully immersed in each character. It was called big acting style. Oldman himself, admits that he overacts when on-screen, but it never seems to the detriment of the character or the overall film. He even lampoons himself in Friends when he is teaching Joey about spitting when you enunciate because that is what all great actors do.
Favourite Role: Norman Stansfield, Leon: the Professional (Luc Besson 1994)
Corrupt DEA agent, total sociopath and classical music lover. This was one of my earliest memories of Oldman and I just thought he was phenomenal. With the weird twisting and convulsing from the pills he takes. The absolute sinister presence he exudes at all times. It was incredible and proved great contrast to the slow, quiet giant of Jean Reno’s Leon. Another important scene is where Stansfield, who has “a talent for sniffing out a lie”, he interrogates Mathilda’s father, played by Michael Balducco. Stansfield has been paying him to store cocaine in his residence, but suspects that he has been stealing some of the drugs for himself. The sniffing and invasion of Badalucco’s personal space was improvised by Oldman, resulting in the genuine expression of unease on Badalucco’s face during the scene.
23. Robin Williams
Dan: There is one reason there was such an outpouring of grief upon the tragic passing of Robin Williams, and that is because he was special. A great stand up comedian who evolved into an even better actor, a transformation few will achieve and none will replicate to the level Williams did.
Throughout his career he took on a variety of roles, excelling in each one. I remember him best for the films I watched as a youngster, Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji, Hook, Aladdin, but his roles in more sinister affairs like Insomnia and One Hour Photo demonstrated a variety to his repertoire that made him stand out.
Williams brought happiness to generations of people, and showcased a flair for drama that won him an Academy Award in Good Will Hunting and Golden Globes for Good Morning, Vietnam, Mrs. Doubtfire & The Fisher King. There will be better actors.
Favourite Role: Parry, The Fisher King (Terry Gilliam, 1991)
The Fisher King is one of my favourite films, a big part of that is the performances in the film by the two leads, Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams. The performance by Williams in the film is the epitome of his talents, it’s a tragic role that requires a combination of heart breaking emotion and gleeful insanity. Few actors could ever successfully satisfy the requirements of such a role, and watching the film I can’t see anybody else doing it. It was his performance in this film that not only made me realise how versatile and good an actor he was, but it made me laugh, contemplate, and just about brought a tear to my eyes.
22. Jeff Bridges
Dan: My first exposure to Jeff Bridges was in the 1976 version of King Kong, which was then followed by Tron. However I was so young at the time I never followed actors careers. Then in 1998 the Coen brothers released The Big Lebowski and all that changed.
There are a litany of films throughout his career that are less than remarkable, but Bridges is so easy to watch in every one of them. Maybe it’s his friendly face, or his softly spoken voice, or the way he carries himself on screen, either way he always has a presence in every frame. What I really like about Bridges is that he is great in acting with facial expressions, not just the way he delivers lines. It’s one of the reasons The Dude is my choice for his favourite role, some of the bewildered expressions and looks he gives as that character are hilarious and add to the obscene chaos revolving around him.
It is also what allows him to change gears and play the bad guy so well too. Obidiah Stane (Iron Man) is a great example of it, gone are the friendly smiles or casual posture and in there place is an upright, stern and cold appearance of a power mad man. However I guess it’s kind of a flaw, but even when Bridges plays the bad guy part of me is still rooting for him. This though is most likely because he plays the good friendly guy so well too.
Favourite Role: The Dude, The Big Lebowski (The Coen Brothers, 1998)
I’m sorry if this was the obvious choice, but regardless it is simple fact that this will go down as his most iconic role, and it is for good reason. There will not be another person who can play the role like Jeff Bridges did, it was one he was born for. I was close to choosing Rooster Cogburn from True Grit (The Coen’s clearly know how to get the best from him) but The Dude won. A fumbling character unwittingly caught up in a ridiculous web of deceit and idiocy and Jeff Bridges played it brilliantly. Though the memorable lines are owed to the script, Jeff Bridges owns them as he delivers them, and as mentioned previously his facial expressions as he stumbles through this journey are just great. From the wide eyed glee he wears during the dream sequence to the utter confusion as a thug pees on his rug, his expressions are priceless and elevate the scenes to another level.
21. Humphrey Bogart
Whether it is defining the cinema PI (more on that here), an ex soldier fighting a stranded gangster in Key Largo, a crazed treasure hunter in The Treasure of The Sierra Madre or the grizzled river boat captain which brought him his only Oscar in The African Queen, he always delivered an unforgettable performance.
“I should never have switched from Scotch to Martini’s” are widely considered to be his last words before he died of throat cancer in 1957, that is a pretty cool way to go out.
Favourite Role: Rick Blaine, Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
Here, Bogart plays Rick Blaine, an American expat running an upscale night club and gambling den in WWII Casablanca. His clientle is varies from Vichy French and German soldiers to black marketeers and refugees. Rick lives by one rule, he never sticks his neck out for anybody. Rick is damaged and running from his past. When his lost love returns and is married to the leader of the French resistance, he is forced to question everything he believes. The quiet cool, the noble sacrifice, the white dinner jacket, the glass of Scotch. Iconic and cool as they come. This is a genuine Hollywood classic, endlessly quotable and completely re-watchable and Bogart’s towering performance is right at its core. “Here’s lookin’ at you kid”
20. Michael Shannon
Welshy: Imagine for a second that this man played a idiot drug dealing KKK member with half an ear in Bad Boys II. The antagonist in Kangaroo Jack , the abusive boyfriend in 8 mile and the mentally unstable son John in Revolutionary Road. Then take into account a huge Broadway and theatre background before he undertook any all of this. Then you have Michael Shannon.
An highly talented actor who reminds me a little of Oldman actually, I think it’s why I like him so much. His method is perfect, his ability to transform, while not always changing physically, proves what a talent this man is. Like Norton, who is lower down this list, he will never be the mega star. He will bring his A game though and your movie will benefit as a result.
Favourite Role: General Zod, Man of Steel, (Zak Snyder, 2013)
I think this is one of his best Roles. Others will say different. They are right. Nevertheless I love this man in this role. His theatrical background, imposing size and manner in which he carries himself creates a spectacular Zod. Who if not done properly comes across; like a bad piss take of Power Ranger Villain. In a very different take on Superman, Shannon’s Zod was one of the best things about it.
19. Dustin Hoffman
James: When it came down to making this Top 25 actors list, we decided very early on that it had to be a favourite actors, not “best” or “most skilled” actors. After 2 Oscar wins and a wide range of subtle, nuanced performances (plus Oscar nominations in 4 decades – just think about how much cinema changed from the 60s to the 90s) no-one will argue that Dustin Hoffman is not a great, great actor. But this is not about his dedication to Method, or the stories about the lengths he went to for his art, like saying up for 3 days foa scene during Marathon Man.
Not blessed with typical movie star good looks, Hoffman has a body of work that can rival anyone. Straight away in his first major role he was brilliant as preppy (although I’m not sure that word existed back in the 60s) Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate, then phenomenal as the streetwise conman Ratso Rizzi in The Midnight Cowboy. Apparently he was annoyed critics doubted his range after The Graduate, so I suppose there must be some journalists who felt very foolish over the next 40 years. Like I said, this is not just about Hoffman’s acting skill, it’s the fact these two films, along with Straw Dogs (1971) and Papillon (1974), are some of my favourite films ever. I love Hoffman in all of these, and we are barely into his career. Add in his roles in All The President’s Men (1976), Tootsie (1982), Hook (1991), Outbreak (1995), Wag The Dog (1997), and we have a bunch of entertaining films that I really enjoyed him in. You’ll notice I didn’t include Rain Man, Kramer vs Kramer, or Marathon Man in there. As good as Hoffman is in those roles (and he is good!), I just don’t find myself wanting to watch them again. We are not putting this list together to impress anyone. That is a reason why the order of this list may not truly reflect the skills of the actors on it. Dustin Hoffman is someone who is both highly skilled and always highly entertaining. That’s why he made the list, even if it at a relatively lowly 18th.
Plus, you know, Mr Bergstrom.
Favourite Role: Jack Crabb, Little Big Man (Arthur Penn, 1970)
When I saw this film, one that my Dad had managed to dig up a copy of from somewhere, I assumed it was just one of Hoffman’s many award winning roles. But it seems to be slightly under the radar. A “revisionist Western”, Hoffman plays a 121 year old Jack Crabb (he screamed for an hour to get the voice right) who reminisces about his life in the Old West to a historian, including being raised by Native Americans from the age of 10. Crabb becomes at various times a snakeoil sales man, then a general store owner, and Wild Bill Hicock and General Custer are characters he meets along the way. The story plays through various real life incidents in the West and is a real frontier adventure, but by drawing comparisons between the US military’s actions then and in Vietnam, there is a satirical bite to the film and a sense of real tragedy.
Hoffman is engaging throughout, and at first I was reminded of Tom Hanks in Forest Gump. Later, Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button, and even Johnny Depp in Lone Ranger definitely took some cues from this movie. For a man in only his 6th film role to give such a varied, nuanced, but most importantly, enjoyable performance is just great. Sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn’t. Here, it definitely does. A true big screen legend.
18. Edward Norton
Welshy: A very good Character actor, who always brings it. I think he is very good at getting into a character and has played some real interesting ones over the years. Death to Smoochie, Fight Club and The 25th Hour are three that come to mind. Again never a Redford, Affleck, De Niro etc.. but a cornerstone of Talent within the industry.
Favourite Role: Derek Vinyard, American history X (Spike Lee, 1998).
The Racist, white power leader who turns around after a stint in prison and decides to help try and change things, is a masterful piece of character work. Norton is eloquent and hateful and imposing without ever raising his hand. Then to see the breakdown and eventual change is just enthralling
Point to Note: A better Incredible Hulk than Mark Ruffalo. Loved the Incredible Hulk film. I feel he was a much better Banner and if I am being honest I think it was a case of not fitting with the other Avengers. I just couldn’t see him having the same Bro-ish chemistry and relationship with RDJ, Chris Evans and so forth.
17. Vincent Cassell
Welshy: This man is the epitome of European Cinema in Hollywood. I love him. I remember seeing him first in Brotherhood of the Wolf. Thinking “my god that guy is brilliant, he is so slimy and weird”. I then realised that I had seen him a year previous in La Haine. He has also been involved with French crime Biopic Mesrine parts one and two. Playing Jacques Mesrine; a criminal and much like Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, Al Capone.
The man speaks English, French, Italian Portuguese and Russian. He is a super talented man and it pained me to see him in Oceans Twelve/Thirteen playing a douche Con Man. I think this was to try and show him in a lighter tone. He does tend to lean towards darker more troubled roles. You really have to watch his French works to get the full blast of his skill, but honestly readers, put in the time and you wont be disappointed.
In this instance I am not giving a favourite role, just a list of films you need to watch.
Irreversible, Blueberry, Sur me levres, L’Apartment Doberman, Brotherhood of the Wolf.
16. Dwayne Johnson
Dave: This absolute hulk of a man was a Former WWE wrestler whose transition to acting has been seamless. An imposing frame and a healthy dose of charisma has made him a Hollywood star.
A third generation WWE Superstar, The Rock is one of the biggest superstars in the history of the company, as well as one of the top grossing wrestlers turned actors of all time.
I love this guy. I came to wrestling quite late, when The Rock was just hitting the top of the company. You could always see that this guy had something special, so it was hardly a surprise to see him making the jump to feature films.
From his first film appearance in The Scorpion King (we won’t count the CGI disaster that was his cameo in The Mummy Returns) he is equally at home as the action hero (Welcome to The Jungle, Hercules, GI Joe) as he is the family film (Race To Witch Mountain, The Game Plan). Can do comedy (Get Smart, Be Cool) as well as a dose of real life (Gridiron Gang, Snitch).
He is one of those actors who can make a film better just by being in it. His profile was stepped up in 2011, when he joined the Fast and Furious franchise, he breathed new life into the series and his presence will ensure it continues following the sad passing of Paul Walker.
I would like to see him play a really despicable villain to really push himself, but that is a small complaint, in reality, I would be happy if he just kept doing what he does…
Favourite Role: Hercules, Hercules (Brett Ratner, 2014)
Now, this is not a great film by any stretch, but it is great fun. If any human being on this earth was born to play Hercules, then it is Dwayne Johnson. This was a tough choice between this and Hobbs from FF or Beck from Welcome to The Jungle, but Herc shades it. Just.
That is all for part 1, join us soon for 15-6. Thanks for reading
Part 2 is up…check it here