The beauty of acting is that there is rarely an outright awful actor, because any performer can have good roles and bad roles. Even the actors you may like the least will have a performance that will catch you off guard and will, perhaps, even win you over. In that same breath, the opposite effect applies to acting as well, where our favourites will take part in a bad film or will even – gasp – act poorly.
We have actors like Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino who have made their marks on cinema in their youths and are now associated with films that aren’t nearly as good (to put it lightly). You can reverse this notion once more and see that certain actors who may have been linked to bad films have experienced a resurgence of sorts with a series of great performances that would have otherwise not been expected of them (these include Matthew McConaughey and Sandra Bullock, for instance). If anything, the films described as good and bad may be reversed depending on your tastes. Case in point: acting is usually unexpected.
Then you have actors who are almost guaranteed to star in bad films, but we won’t focus on that kind of negativity. Instead, let us look at a rare instance where an actor’s filmography is perfect (or close to perfect), where it is difficult to think up of a bad film or performance they were a part of.
In film history, it is easier to dig up examples of some of the old greats. Greta Garbo was a starlet with a nearly flawless catalogue that ended with The Two-Faced Woman (this film’s bad reception affected Garbo who swore to never star in a film again and, unfortunately, stuck to her word until she passed away).
Cary Grant and James Stewart were usually expected to only star in golden films, whether they be funny or dramatic, and it is difficult to think of many bad films (excluding The Greatest Show on Earth, of course) that either of them have been a part of. You then have John Cazale, whose five-film combo is by far and beyond the best in history (The Godfather parts I and II, The Deer Hunter, Dog Day Afternoon and The Conversation) that was only cut short because he lost a battle with cancer.
With the way the film industry is nowadays, it is more difficult to think of actors who have not been a part of something a bit silly. Even Kate Winslet and Kevin Spacey have been attached to some atrocious films, even if it’s only once in a while. Nonetheless, we are going to look at the resumes that are the hardest to pick apart.
Some of these actors are extremely (and notoriously selective), and some just know a great script when they see it. Whose filmographies are the most reliable? Which actor can you follow into battle and usually expect a decent-to-brilliant film with? As this is not a competition but more-or-less a referral guide, the following ten performers will be listed in order by name only. Here are ten consistently great filmographies by some of the finest actors out there.
1. Daniel Day-Lewis
There is absolutely no need to introduce this legend, but he has to be featured here, and thus deserves yet another smothering that he is no stranger to. Daniel Day-Lewis is notorious for how selective his filmography (he has only starred in five films after 1997), but almost everything he has been a part of has been close to earth shattering. Nine was his only colossal flop, but can you blame him for trying? This was meant to be a modern reformatting of 8 ½; who wouldn’t want to be a part of this?
Aside from Nine, you can do no wrong with his filmography (to the point that the five films featured are all Oscar winners/nominees, but everything he does is worth it). Hell, he was barely in Gandhi and the film Best Picture.
Jokes aside, his numerous ‘80s and ‘90s films are all worth watching, and so are all of his films after (Nine may not be great, but he is great in it). Daniel Day-Lewis is the finest actor of our generation (and one of the greatest of all time), and his career proves this.
Recommendations: There Will Be Blood, My Left Foot, Gangs of New York, In the Name of the Father, Lincoln
2. Isabelle Huppert
The second French performer featured here is a much more recognizable name, and it is not just because of her recent Academy Award nomination. Isabelle Huppert has been championed by critics, fans, and fellow performers as being one of the greats of all time, and people were actually waiting on the Academy to finally respond (sadly, she was not rightfully rewarded, but a nomination is a start).
The majority of her work features depressing, intense, and vicious concepts, but Huppert bravely pulls off these roles every time. She will be featured as a support of sorts in the odd role (like the Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby), but she is always memorable.
Be aware of the films you check out because of their potential intensities, but rest assured that you are almost always guaranteed to witness something great with Isabelle Huppert. This may be cheating a bit, but Amour was not featured below because of the size of her role in the film (it is nonetheless still highly recommended).
Recommendations: Elle, The Piano Teacher, Loulou, Entre Nous, La Cérémonie
3. Cate Blanchett
Here we have Australia’s greatest cinematic export. Cate Blanchett is no stranger to accolades (having won two Academy Awards, amongst others), and her mentioning here should come as no surprise. While she has the occasional dud (Robin Hood, The Good German), a lot of her mixed films on Rotten Tomatoes are highly debatable with film goers. The Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou is a cult favourite, and Knight of Cups resonated strongly with some cinephiles.
Then you have her strong work, and there are just too many to single out (it was a challenge within itself to only pick five films to feature as highlights, so don’t just stick to the ones featured here). Her gift to adapt to any scenario is nearly unparalleled (very few actors can reach her level of finess), and even her brief moments are golden (her minute-long cameo in Hot Fuzz was even hilarious). Cate Blanchett is prolific, and almost always on point.
Recommendations: The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I’m Not There, Blue Jasmine, Carol, The Aviator
4. Daniel Auteuil
French cinema has always been important, and its contemporary features are no exception. Within that mold, and the many actors that have come out of France’s industry (Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassell, Gérard Depardieu and more).
One of two performers (the other will be featured later) is noteworthy for having a career that has rarely wavered, and that is the wonderful Daniel Auteuil. His breakthrough Jean de Florette was alongside other French greats (Depardieu, Yves Montand and more), and he was not outshined in the slightest.
Decades later, and the majority of his work is still going strong. Auteuil may not have broken ground on this side of the ocean quite like some of the previously named actors (and the other feature on this list), but that shouldn’t deter you from checking out this magnetic performer.
Recommendations: Jean de Florette, Dialogues Avec Mon Jardinier, Mai Saison Préférée, La Fille Sur le Pont, 36 Quai Des Orfevres
5. Carey Mulligan
The doe-eyed starlet Carey Mulligan was first noticed in Pride and Prejudice, but it was her breakthrough with An Education that made her a star. She was nominated for an Oscar and lost to Sandra Bullock. As she was a young newcomer that seemingly came out of nowhere (even with theatre experience, Pride and Prejudice is one hell of a first film to be a part of no matter how small the role is), it seemed like she may have fizzled away after her spontaneous fame erupted (as it occasionally happens to stars, sadly).
That was not the case, and almost every film Mulligan has been a part of since has been noteworthy. The Wall Street sequel Money Never Sleeps may have been a bit questionable, and The Great Gatsby is brilliant or awful depending on who you ask, but the rest of her resumé is nothing to dismiss lightly. Her career consists of a few films, but the majority of them are noteworthy. You can only be excited for what is in store next for her, really.
Recommendations: An Education, Shame, Never Let Me Go, Drive, Inside Llewyn Davis