It seems to me we’re in a golden age of cinema today which rivals the studio glory days of the 1930’s. The nominees for best picture this year were largely outstanding, although I thought Inception was just too full of itself and I’m not about to watch the movie where the guy cuts his arm off.
I attribute this in part to the wealth of independent producers who’ve largely replaced the studio system, and of course to technical innovations which the computer age has brought, but I think the biggest reason is the wealth of acting talent that has lately erupted.
In the generations of actors immediately preceding the young crop, three, to my mind were preeminent: Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro. The best actors of the current crop are Johnny Depp, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Sean Penn.
Coincidentally or not, these three align in talent with the three older actors, Sean Penn with De Niro, for the kinds of in-your-face realism roles that made them famous, and Depp with Dustin Hoffman. They both have that chameleon ability to assume a wide variety of roles.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, whom I consider to be the best of the latter three, also shares with his Hoffman namesake the chameleon thing, unlike Jack Nicholson, but in addition to that, as with Nicholson, he has a personality that one can see underlining all his roles with which one feels an affinity.
Although I appreciate their acting—Penn in Milk and Dead Man Walking is brilliant—in contrast to Nicholson and Philip Seymour, neither De Niro nor Penn strike me as someone to whom I could relate well. You may recall from a recent post that I mention two brilliant films I don’t care to see again and both star Robert De Niro.
I see six actors as being almost on that top three level: Russell Crowe, Denzel Washington, George Clooney, Colin Firth, Casey Affleck and Leonardo DiCaprio. Clooney is old school Clark Gable and Carey Grant rolled into one, and DiCaprio has gone miraculously from pretty boy to James Cagney.
Very Honorable Mentions I give to Tommy Lee Jones, Jeff Bridges, Geoffrey Rush, Alan Rickman, Tom Hanks, Kevin Costner, Terrence Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Matt Dillon, Stanley Tucci, Liam Neeson, Billy Bob Thornton, Samuel L. Jackson, Steve Buscemi and the sublime Kevin Spacey.
And the women are better than the men. Meryl Streep is the best actor in the history of cinema, period.*
In the top three tier with her are Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman. There isn’t a generation-before these three women trio who could compare. Who would the outstanding actresses of the 70’s be? Jane Fonda, Goldie Hawn and Barbara Streisand? Not in the league with the current three. One has to go back another generation for three of this caliber, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn and Ingrid Bergman, I’d say.
Almost there on the level of Moore and Kidman I’d put Cate Blanchett, Helen Mirren, Joan Allen, Laura Linny, Annette Bening and Kate Winslet. Then there’s Natalie Portman, Jodie Foster, Julie Roberts, Judy Davis, Joan Cusack, Dianne Lane, Naomi Watts, Selma Hayek, Judi Dench, Reese Witherspoon, Halle Berry, Catherine Keener, Amy Ryan, Patricia Clarkston and probably at least a dozen others whose names don’t come to mind presently.
Finally, note from the list presented the infusion of Australian talent that’s occurred only with this generation. It’s on a smaller scale like the influx of German talent which produced the first golden age.
*That’s my opinion limited by my lesser knowledge of foreign actors whose work I couldn’t fully appreciate anyway.