8. Jimmy Stewart – 1950 – Winchester ’73 & Harvey
It’s insane to think of the vast number of classics Jimmy Stewart starred in throughout his prolific career. From “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” to “How the West Was Won,” and of course, the string of innovative classics with Alfred Hitchcock, Stewart was a versatile actor who reigned supreme across a 60-year career.
Stewart kicked off the 50s with his first collaboration with Anthony Mann in a gritty western about the journey of a prized rifle and a feud between brothers. “Winchester ’73” showed the world a different side of Stewart as he goes on a revenge-seeking journey through the Wild West. Notable for being the first actor to get a profit share over a salary, the film was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress.
“Harvey,” on the other hand, is a lighthearted and touching film about a man and his invisible 6-foot best friend who also happens to be a rabbit. Stewart brings his trademark charm as the titular character who you can’t help but love. The actor has called it one of his personal favorite performances, and it’s easy to see why as he thoroughly enjoys himself in the role.
9. Jake Gyllenhaal – 2013 – Prisoners & Enemy
For a minute it looked as if Jake Gyllenhaal would become to Denis Villeneuve what Robert De Niro was to Martin Scorsese. As Villeneuve made the transition to Hollywood and English-language films, he would make two films with Gyllenhaal that would become some of the actor’s best work.
First was “Prisoners,” where Gyllenhaal would play the determined and cool Detective Loki who’s investigating the disappearance of Keller Dover’s (Hugh Jackman) daughter. Detective and father would continuously butt heads as Dover would take the law into his own hands.
Loki is a loner, Dover a family man; Loki kept his emotions in check while Dover would act based on his emotions. Jackman gives a raw exploding performance of ‘what you see is what you get.’ Gyllenhaal gives a subtler performance that slowly reveals that he too is a prisoner, but of a different kind.
Then came the mind-fuck that was “Enemy,” where Gyllenhaal played a dual role as college professor Adam Bell and his doppelganger Anthony Claire, who’s an actor. Although both men look identically the same, they have different personalities and different lives.
A yin and yang of sorts that the actor personifies perfectly with different mannerisms and vocal tones. Aside from Villeneuve’s direction, the film firmly belongs to Gyllenhaal, who’s a joy to watch even if you don’t exactly know now what’s going on.
10. Leonardo DiCaprio – 2002 – Gangs of New York & Catch Me If You Can
Leonardo DiCaprio had long since established himself as an actor of note before 2002, especially with “Titanic” a few years earlier. But it’s the success of “Titanic,” particularly the fame and screaming teenage girls who came along with it that made him re-evaluate his career and the type of roles he was choosing.
“Gangs of New York” and “Catch Me If You Can” aren’t even halfway the best films or performances Dicaprio has made or given. And he’s arguably had stronger years with the release of two films. But 2002 was such important year for the actor as he re-introduced himself and became the matured DiCaprio we all know and love today. And what better way to do that than to work back to back with some of the two greatest American directors of all time?
His first collaboration with Martin Scorsese was shaky, to say the least. It’s a messy, uneven, convoluted epic that could’ve been so much better but is still a good watch. It’s Daniel Day-Lewis who makes the most impression as he wipes the floor with anyone unlucky enough to share a scene with him. Baby-cheeks DiCaprio’s performance, while good, seems to be lacking that extra pinch that made his other work reverting.
Then there was Spielberg’s “Catch Me If You Can,” which fared better both at the box office and with critics. While not Spielberg’s best either, DiCaprio’s performance here worked better.
It’s a performance Dicaprio can play in his sleep, that charming yet sly character with the determination to match. As DiCaprio did press for both films, he noted that he kept being asked what the differences were between working with Scorsese and Spielberg, and that he could only think of the similarities.
11. Marlon Brando – 1972 – The Godfather & Last Tango in Paris
Marlon Brando has time and time again given cinema one iconic performance after another. His career went through many highs and lows, but 1972 saw the actor return to the top with two performances that proved that the actor still had it.
Throughout his illustrious career, Brando has given many iconic performances, but none as iconic as Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather.” Everyone at one point in their lives has tried to imitate Brando’s unique accent for the Don.
Parodied to exhaustion, Vito’s accent and mannerisms have become synonymous with mobsters in pop culture. As hilarious as it may all seem, you can’t help but be hypnotized whenever Brando speaks, particularly in the classic opening.
“Last Tango in Paris” is one of those notorious films whose reputation precedes it, a no-holds-barred erotic drama where Brando plays a widowed American man who begins an anonymous sexual relationship with a young Parisian woman.
Engrossing and at the same time exhausting, the film’s controversy and divide over its sexual violence still live on today. Brando gives a powerful performance that’s raw and vulnerable and perhaps a little indulgent, but carries the film with the actor’s towering presence.
12. Philip Seymour Hoffman – 2008 – Synecdoche, New York & Doubt
You’d be hard-pressed to find a single lackluster performance from the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman. No matter how big or small his roles were, Hoffman always put his best foot forward and was always a highlight in the diverse range of films he appeared in.
Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut encompasses everything that’s great about his work. Expertly fusing together multiple storylines and genres, “Synecdoche, New York” is Kaufman at his most ambitious and absurd. Throughout the madness, Hoffman remains the film’s only semblance of sanity as a neurotic theater director whose life is spiraling out of control. In a film about everything, Hoffman is the everyman who strives for perfection because his life has none.
In “Doubt,” Hoffman plays a priest who’s accused of giving too much attention to one particular student. With the acting of heavyweights of Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Viola Davis, “Doubt” first and foremost is a master class of great acting. Hoffman expertly gives his character a sense of likability while giving telltale signs that perhaps Father Flynn isn’t as innocent as he seems. It’s where the film gets its title and it wouldn’t work without the actor’s ambiguous turn.
13. Robert De Niro – 1995 – Heat & Casino
Say what you will about Robert De Niro’s later career choice of roles, nothing will ever tarnish the legendary work he made at the height of his career. In 1995, De Niro would star in two crime films that he became synonymous with, both based on true events and real people.
First up was “Casino” where De Niro played gambling handicapper Sam “Ace” Rothstein, who’s sent to Las Vegas by the mob to oversee the running of the Tangiers casino. Teaming up with Martin Scorsese for the eighth time, “Casino” was seen on release as a retread of the duo’s previous collaboration in “Goodfellas.” And in some respects it is, but Scorsese has never been one to make the same film twice, regardless of how similar they may be.
“Casino” is more detailed, gripping, violent and depending on who you ask, better than “Goodfellas.” It contains nothing we haven’t seen before, yet involves a fresh look at the same old mafia stories. While Sharon Stone stole the show as Rothstein’s troubled wife, De Niro is given a lot to work with as the no-nonsense Ace who’s dealing with drama on all fronts of his personal and business relationships. A truly underrated gem that takes an intricate look at mob business and fights over turf.
Michael Mann’s “Heat” sees De Niro playing a criminal of a different kind, professional thief Nick McCauley. Marketed as the first time heavyweights Al Pacino and De Niro share the screen together (both appearing in different scenes in “The Godfather Part II”), Mann masterfully plays with audience expectations for when the two will eventually meet. Taunting, teasing and building up to a classic scene and confrontation.
De Niro is powerful as the methodical and technical master thief. Compared to Pacino’s hammy performance, De Niro underplays his roles as a man of few words. He has a presence of ambiguity, which makes him more dangerous. The two play actors play characters that are different sides of the same coin, which is the same as their acting styles here.
14. Tom Cruise – 1999 – Eyes Wide Shut & Magnolia
It’s hard to remember a time when Tom Cruise wasn’t running around the world beating up bad guys. In the 80s and 90s, Cruise starred in a string of acclaimed dramas which arguably peaked in 1999 with “Eyes Wide Shut” and “Magnolia.” One was the last film from a legendary director and the other from a future legend who was well on his way.
Everyone was baffled when Stanley Kubrick returned from a decade-plus absence with an erotic film about marriage woes starring Hollywood power couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. While Kidman’s performance was unanimously praised, Cruise’s turn unfairly received a much more mixed response.
He plays an uptight doctor who goes wandering through the city where sexual opportunities keep tempting him to cheat on his wife after she admits she’s been tempted to do the same. Committing to a 400-day shooting schedule, the pair gives an intimate and controlled portrayal that benefits from their chemistry.
In Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia,” Cruise played a more outspoken and outlandish character who feeds on men’s insecurities with the opposite sex. Frank T.J. Mackey is more like a rock star than a motivational speaker, and Cruise relishes the chance to chew up the scenery. He also gets some tender moments to be vulnerable and shed a few tears in a raw, energetic performance.
If some people weren’t convinced by him in “Eyes Wide Shut,” in “Magnolia” they had no choice but offer praise. Standing out in the impressively cast ensemble, Cruise would earn an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
15. Tom Hardy – 2015 – Mad Max: Fury Road & The Revenant
If you weren’t convinced that Tom Hardy can play absolutely any character, then 2015 should’ve laid that doubt to rest. Hardy played a contrast of characters in two wildly different films.
First up came the long-awaited Mad Max film that saw George Miller returning to do what he does best. With Hardy taking over the titular character that shot Mel Gibson to superstardom, “Fury Road” was well worth the wait.
Hardy brought his own style to the franchise that complements and builds on Gibson’s stellar work decades earlier. Max has never been a man of many words, a role Hardy fit into perfectly. With Charlize Theron in tow, the two shared a palpable chemistry that was the heart of the story.
In Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “The Revenant,” Hardy leaves the sun-soaked dystopian desert for the harsh snow-filled wilderness of the 1800s. From reluctant hero to bug-eyed villain, Hardy slips easily into the contrast. Playing the mumbling Fitzgerald who leaves Leonardo DiCaprio for dead after he’s humped (I mean mauled) by a grizzly bear, Hardy was the colorful character the film lacked.
While DiCaprio, Iñárritu, and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki would clean up at awards shows, Mark Rylance would continuously rain on Hardy’s parade for Best Supporting Actor in “Bridge of Spies.” At least Hardy received his long overdue Oscar nomination.