Who Makes the Best Career Decisions in Hollywood: ACTOR EDITION
By Tricia Romano Posted Nov 18th 2009 08:00PM
It's November, which means it's officially time to think about the Oscars. People are already placing bets on the top performances even if they haven't seen them yet (think the soon-to-be-released and highly-anticipated 'Nine'). There are some actors who have been on the road to Oscardom ever since they began emoting; others found a way out of their earlier career mishaps and have reinvented themselves into serious actors. Popeater looks at the "best of the best" and asks the critics to weigh in.
Remember when George Clooney had a poodle-haired mullet? You don't? That's just the way People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive (twice-over) likes it. Clooney, besides reinventing himself from dorkiness to hotness, managed another major feat in Hollywood -- jumping from TV ('The Facts of Life,' 'ER') to the silver screen, something that proves elusive for many struggling actors.
His film career has been as risky (think 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind') as it has been silly (the current 'Men Who Stare At Goats'). Village Voice critic Michael Musto says "He has old-school movie star charm that makes him float to the top every time. And he mixes his palette up with art films and crowd pleasers, getting away with it more than Nicole Kidman does because he doesn't act like he cares that much while she projects such burning earnestness. His blase quality makes you care about HIM."
It's a long way from stoner surfer Spicoli in 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' to 'Milk' and the Oscar. But Sean Penn is proving to be the male version of Meryl Streep -- even when he's less than perfect (see his stab at being mentally-challenged in 'I Am Sam'), he's better than the rest. Louis Virtel of Movieline.com agrees. "He's legitimately the best actor in Hollywood and none of his choices seem far-fetched. Even if you grew up knowing Harvey Milk's story, it was impossible not to disappear into that portrayal. And also into the chocolatey eyes of James Franco, but whatever."
Daniel Day-Lewis's selection process seems to be if it's anything less than an Oscar-winning script, he's passing. It also helps if the character he's portraying is demented, tortured, scary and psychotic but also immensely charismatic. He's won two of the Golden Men for 'My Left Foot' and 'There Will Be Blood' and was beaten out by Tom Hanks in 'Philadelphia' - a role he'd previously turned down. Says Movieline's Virtel of the master of disguise: "No one cultivates mystique like a recluse, and that might be Day-Lewis's most suspenseful role of all. His roles have ranged from austere to macabre to poignant, and he also has a very scary 'serious face' that I see in my absinthe dreams. I can't wait to see him trip our milkshakes fantastic in 'Nine.'"
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Has Philip Seymour Hoffman ever picked a bad role? Ever since he came into the public eye, Hoffman has chosen A-list parts from the stage to the screen. (Although there's a 'Law & Order' episode with his name on it that we're dying to see.) His first major pic was a memorable minor part in 'Boogie Nights.' He quickly followed that up with significant showings in 'Magnolia,' 'Almost Famous,' and 'Cold Mountain.' By the time he was in 'Capote,' it was all Hollywood could do but throw themselves at his feet and worship him with an Academy Award. As Musto says: "No one will ever say, 'He let himself go!' He lets it hang and goes to dark places in his roles, and so he can long exist as a character actor who happens to also be a leading man."
There's a saying in Hollywood that you have to do some movies for the money, so that you can do a few for the love. Viggo Mortensten has this methodology down pat. After toiling away in small-stage productions that earned him accolades, he received a phone call to take part in the 'Lord of the Rings' series. Skeptical and unwilling to leave his kids, he turned it down. But his son was a huge fan of the novels and urged him to do it. Three mega-hits (and we're guessing, a ton of dough) later, Mortensten now has the luxury to choose dark characters in films directed by some of the best in the business (see David Cronenberg's 'A History of Violence' and 'Eastern Promises,' the latter of which Mortensten was nominated for an Academy Award.) Says Movieline's Virtel of the enigmatic actor, "Anyone who chose to be a part of the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy is clearly Mensa-level competent, because what would you need after that? Sean Astin just lectured at the University of Illinois for the hell of it. Viggo Mortensen is a distinguished presence, and I hope his well-publicized distaste with the film industry is just a phase."
Like George Clooney and Sean Penn, Johnny Depp wasn't gonna let anyone put baby in the corner. His early career appearances in '21 Jump Street' and 'A Nightmare on Elm Street,' set him up to be a brooding teen heartthrob, a classification he quickly and effectively resisted. He starred in the drama 'Platoon' and Jon Water's indie 'Cry-Baby', but it was his starring turn in 'Edward Scissorhands' that set Hollywood on notice: this pretty-boy can act and likes to take chances on the weird stuff. He's followed these up with choices that knock his beautiful looks (see Hunter S. Thompson in 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas'), and has delved into even darker territory with 'Sweeney Todd.' His role as Captain Jack Sparrow in the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' trilogy got him nominated for Best Actor - a rarity for a comic part in a Hollywood popcorn flick. Perhaps the biggest problem with Depp's career is that he's played the weirdo so many times, we're wondering if he's just playing himself. Says Michael Musto: "He takes chances and revels in his own weirdness, and that will always work for him. He's magnetic and risk-taking, so even if the project isn't up to him, he brings a compelling dark center to it and he stays watchable. His choices, for the most part, have provided him with great screen romps that appeal to the goth child in all of us."
Javier Bardem is a character actor with devastatingly handsome looks. So it's unsurprising that he can carry the part of the smoking-hot boyfriend in 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona' as easily as he can the deranged murderer in the Coen brothers' 'No Country for Old Men,' for which he rightfully won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. Long a fixture in the Spanish-language films of Pedro Almodovar like his girlfriend/fiancée Penelope Cruz, he's been slowly making the transition to Hollywood. Says Karina Longworth, a freelance movie critic, "Since breaking out in the States with 'Before Night Falls' in 2000, [Bardem] has gone back-and-forth between Hollywood films and Spanish-language productions. He does seem to have been fairly careful about only speaking English under the command of very famous, well-regarded filmmakers. So even the disappointing films he's made (such as Milos Forman's 'Goya's Ghost's') are at least interesting, and Bardem is often the best thing in them."
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