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Top Actors of the 21st Century


There is nothing like a good list about art to get people arguing. And so the New York Times’ Top 25 Actors of the 21st Century can get us talking. It’s the right list in that it combines very solid choices with eyeraising and even risible choices. Comments:

25) Gael Garcia Bernal–entirely defensible, he’s been excellent in so many films

24) Sonia Braga–I’m not super familiar with this Brazilian actress, but her reputation is outstanding

23) Mahershala Ali–I dunno; some of it is that I just don’t like a lot of his movies. But it’s hardly indefensible.

22) Melissa McCarthy–I am completely fine with this. You have to have comedic actors in these lists. Comedy is hard. And McCarthy is very good.

21) Catherine Deneuve–yes, obviously, even just for her films since 2000.

20) Rob Morgan–somewhat ashamed to note I haven’t seen any of his films

19) Wes Studi–something of an odd choice; certainly the most prominent Native actor and he definitely has some solid roles.

18) Willem Dafoe–absolutely, no question. Great, great actor.

17) Alfre Woodward–sure, no problem here.

16) Kim Min-Hee–not sure I’ve seen any of her work

15) Michael B. Jordan–yes, he’s very fine

14) Oscar Isaac–as seemingly the only person who doesn’t like Inside Llewyn Davis, I can’t say I would have chosen him.

13) Tilda Swinton–sure, I’ll buy that

12) Joaquin Phoenix–so, Phoenix has never been my favorite actor in that I think he overacts quite a bit. He’s certainly done a huge variety of roles and is quite talented. I’m not going to object, though he probably wouldn’t be in my list

11) Julianne Moore–definitely

10) Saoirse Ronan–yeah, OK. Obviously, she’s on the younger end, but you can’t question her ability or her choices in scripts. And you have to include rising actors in this kind of list.

9) Viola Davis–yes

8) Zhao Tao–her work in Ash is Purest White is brilliant and she’s always good. Great choice

7) Toni Servillo–on the glory of The Great Beauty alone he deserves to be on this list.

6) Song Kang-Ho–you are probably most familiar with Song for his role as the father in Parasite; he’s great in everything.

5) Nicole Kidman–I dunno. My wife flipped her lid when she saw this. I’ve never really thought of Kidman as a truly great actor. She’s certainly a very solid mainstream actor. But then I look at the movies and I’m like, meh.

4) Keanu Reeves–welcome to Trollville, town of 1! What the fuck is this? As my wife said, Brad Pitt would make a better choice here. Keanu Reeves is….a bad actor. It’s true enough that he’s had one of the weirdest careers in recent history, with a lot of very interesting movies even though I feel he makes them all worse. So maybe I am a minority. But give me a fucking break. Fourth? Fourth!

3) Daniel Day-Lewis–duh. Only third?

2) Isabelle Huppert–not sure I’d put her second, but then I can’t object to that either.

  1. Denzel Washington–sigh. OK, look. Denzel is a great, great actor. But look at the movies since 2000. Are they really worthy of this spot? If you extend this back to 1985, then absolutely. But aren’t almost all of his best works before 2000? I mean, American Gangster is quite excellent. I like Training Day plenty well. And he’s always solid. But in the comments about the response Scott and Dargis has gotten here, they noted that lots of people were angry that Meryl Streep wasn’t included. I agree that Streep is not one of the best actors today if you only take her work since 2000. But what’s the difference between Streep’s work since then and Denzel’s? They are both great actors who are slightly past their peak. So I don’t really see this, or at least not at #1.

What struck me though about this list is who was left out. First, where the hell is Philip Seymour Hoffman? I know we lost him too young but who was better in the first 15 years of the new century? No one. So that one is a huge mistake. I’m also quite surprised to not see the great Kristen Stewart here. Or Mathieu Amalric. Or Juliette Binoche. I’d definitely include Benicio Del Toro and Javier Bardem.

Of course, people are going to be left off such a list. But not for Keanu Goddamn Reeves.

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