When I made the list for Top 10 Film Actresses Right Now, I actually had the idea for a few weeks before finally conjuring up the guts it takes to complete such an undertaking. But now that I have finally reached my Super Saiyan form, I might as well strike while the iron’s hot and do the follow-up list before I get distracted by some new shiny object. I have the attention span of a squirrel with a low-grade concussion.
Whether it be fair or unfair, there are more films in Hollywood that are led by male actors than there are those led by females, and regardless of the social implications or what you may think about that situation, for us right now, that means the pool of actors from which to make my selections is rather vast. I tried to compose this list of those who have a combination of a winning track record, recent success, and overall star power. There is no real quantitative measure to go by so my gut feelings are the best alternative.
I would like to quickly thank Daniel Day-Lewis for retiring before I constructed this list, therefore designating him as inactive, and giving me just a little bit more flexibility. My Honorable Mentions are as follows: Benedict Cumberbatch, Javier Bardem, Michael B Jordan, Mark Ruffalo, Oscar Isaac, Willem Dafoe, Denzel Washington, Christoph Waltz, Timothée Chalamet, Gary Oldman, Ryan Gosling, Sam Rockwell, and Ryan Reynolds. Yeah, I had to make some tough calls, clearly.
10. Idris Elba
There was a time when Idris Elba was an underrated diamond in the rough. Everyone knew he was a top-quality actor but it took a little bit for him to be considered A-list. Perhaps he was the best-kept secret or maybe I just was not looking as closely as I should have been. Either way, Idris Elba is a hot commodity now and it is well deserved. While he has been a mainstay as the lead on the BBC Detective Drama “Luther” for almost a decade, he has now left a remarkably sizeable footprint on the film industry. He has scored a reoccurring role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Heimdall, major voice acting gigs in major animated features like “Zootopia”, “The Jungle Book”, and “Finding Dory”, as well as major roles in blockbuster franchises “Pacific Rim”, “Star Trek”, and “The Fast and The Furious”. There were even talks for years that he was perhaps the top choice to take up the mantle of James Bond when Daniel Craig finally moved on.
In my humble opinion, Idris’s best performance came in the Netflix produced 2015 African War drama, “Beasts of No Nation”, as the incredibly threatening Commandant. The fact that he was snubbed for an Oscar nomination that year is an egregious crime against humanity, as he was my personal choice to win it all that year. This performance is the greatest showcase of his remarkable acting talents. I am well aware that not many people have seen this film, so I highly recommend you log onto Netflix and watch it. It is not like you’re the one paying for the account anyway.
9. Tom Hardy
There was a point in his career, after filming the romantic comedy “This Means War” with Chris Pine and Reese Witherspoon, that Tom Hardy publicly stated that he was done with the genre and wanted to be taken more seriously as an actor. I would say that Tom has achieved what he set out to do. He has developed the reputation as an actor with a fierce dedication that produces very creative takes on ideas that could have been much simpler and forgettable in the hands of a lesser actor. It now seems that Tom Hardy is synonymous with both commercial and critical success.
Hardy has made a major impact in the comic book genre, playing the conniving powerhouse Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises” as well as an antihero version the title character in “Venom”, both of which were well received by fans. He was the antagonist to Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Revenant”, where he was screaming about pelts of fur and managed to steal an Oscar nomination. He has made a turn as notorious serial killer and wearer of fabulous mustache, Charles Bronson. Furthermore, he has also grown into the unofficial position as director Christopher Nolan’s go-to talent, which is certainly the most enviable of positions. Perhaps my favorite aspect of his acting is his creativity. He always develops a unique voice for seemingly all of his characters that is far more than just a gimmick. It makes each performance special, gifted with a unique touch that only Hardy can provide.
8. Joaquin Phoenix
Early on in his career, Joaquin was oft compared to his late older brother, River. After his unfortunate, early passing, Joaquin was burdened with carrying the legacy and enormous untapped potential of his brother. It was an unfair hill for him to have to climb, but he has reached the summit. Joaquin has been amongst the upper echelon of Hollywood talents since the turn of the century and is still going strong today. He has excelled so much, in fact, that like the Hardy before him, he is tasked with following up behind the legendary Heath Ledger’s performance of the Joker, this time in his own solo Joker origin film. It is a herculean task, and if you come at the king, you best not miss (Just ask Jared Leto).
Obviously, Phoenix’s success is based on more than just the fact that he will be the next Joker, although that is telling of the faith the industry has in his ability. He has been stellar in virtually all of the films he has been in, including “Gladiator”, “Her”, and “Walk the Line”. He has also recently carved out a nice partnership with one of my favorite directors, Paul Thomas Anderson, by starring in thrillers “The Master” and “Inherent Vice”. Phoenix reliably delivers depth with his characters, delivering performances that make you feel, think, and engage with the material beyond just what the narrative provides for on the surface.
7. Hugh Jackman
I remember a “Key & Peele” comedy routine where they said women used to convince their boyfriends to see “Les Misérables” by telling them it was a movie starring “ya boy Wolverine”. At the time, it was pretty surprising to see Hugh Jackman star in a musical, but how unassuming we were. What I, and I am guessing the rest of you losers also, didn’t realize at the time was that Jackman was an accomplished stage actor in Australia before coming to America and he was more than comfortable flexing that skillset on the silver screen. And since then, Jackman has blossomed into such an accomplished leading man in Hollywood, proving that not only can he be the perfect Wolverine in the “X-Men” franchise, but he also has the angelic pipes to carry multiple high profile musicals whose soundtracks are constantly playing on repeat on my mom’s bathroom speakers (Which is objectively the most important accomplishment).
The Australian actor is now one of the surest bets in the industry for a fan of pretty much any genre. Like I mentioned before, he thrives in musicals, provided one of the top 2 all-time runs as a superhero (Will we see the other on this list?), and has worked with accomplished directors Christopher Nolan and James Mangold. He has exhibited comedic range with his public frenemy, Ryan Reynolds, and I really do hope they do a project together soon because they are adorable. Can I be your friend, guys? Please…
6. Bradley Cooper
Does everyone remember when Bradley Cooper played the douchey boyfriend to Rachel McAdams’s Claire in “Wedding Crashers” and we all foolishly thought he would be pigeonholed into roles like that forever? Well, Cooper has developed himself and his career into one of the most versatile actors around, all while still playing those cocky comedic roles in films like “The Hangover” or one of its totally unnecessary sequels. Now he just has the freedom to choose whatever he wants to do.
From 2012 to 2014, Cooper delivered an Oscar-nominated performance each year for “Silver Lining’s Playbook” (2012), “American Hustle” (2013), and “American Sniper” (2014). All of those roles task Cooper with different types of characters, from a realistic portrayal of mental illnesses like bipolar disorder to a sleazy FBI agent, to a veteran sniper coping with PTSD. He has also added his vocal works to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Rocket in “The Guardians of the Galaxy” Franchise. Just last year, he flexed on us by co-starring with Lady Gaga in a remake of “A Star is Born” where he once again proved how talented he was by exhibiting an ability to sing. And since I am piling it all up, you should see how gifted of an impressionist he is too. He does the best Christopher Walken I have ever heard. He is absurdly talented and I think a part of me resents him for it.
5. Josh Brolin
It seems like a sort of sacrilege that goddamn Thanos is only 5th on this list, but thus is the yield of my mighty brain. Do not question me! Josh Brolin is on one of the cleanest hot streaks of uninterrupted gold I have ever witnessed. The streak, which is so hot it is nearing incandescence, goes “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”, “Inherent Vice”, “Sicario”, “Hail Ceasar”, “Avengers: Infinity War”, “Deadpool 2”, “Sicario: Day of the Soldado”, and finally “Avengers: Endgame” … I mean seriously! Save some for everybody else.
If his aforementioned streak didn’t tip you off, Brolin is an amazing actor and a bankable presence in the movie industry. Outrageously, that streak doesn’t even include some of his finest performances. Working closely with the Coen Brothers, he plays the hero Llewelyn Moss in the truly spectacular “No Country for Old Men” and Tom Cheney in “True Grit”, as well as prominent political figures George W. “Dubya” Bush in Oliver Stone’s “W.” and Dan White in the acclaimed biopic “Milk”. If you don’t get it by now, I really can’t help you. The man is an acting force-to-be-reckoned-with. He also sometimes broadcasts on social media from his toilet and I respect the Hell out of him for it.
4. Mahershala Ali
After getting his big break on the Netflix political drama “House of Cards”, Mahershala Ali has spring-boarded himself into the conversation of being one of the best actors right now. He owns the unique distinction of being the only actor to accumulate multiple Academy Awards in the past 3 years, and it now seems as though everything he touches will prosper. And even though I refused to see “Alita: Battle Angel” out of principle (I am a confusing, stubborn anomaly of a person), I have read that it may have been the only successful live-action adaptation of an anime ever. I imagine him starring in it may have had something to do with it.
Ali’s best turn is undoubtedly as Juan in Barry Jenkins’s Oscar-winning “Moonlight”. In the film, he plays a paternal drug dealer with a heart of gold. He is a layered character that is a positive, guiding force to young Chiron, a neglected Miami boy who struggles with his identity, bullying, and whose mother is addicted to the junk Juan sells. Juan struggles with the consequences of his actions and how it affects the boy he is trying to help. This is Ali’s best character to date but there is more assuredly to come. And even though I have roasted “Green Book”, Ali did a great job in the film as well. It is no coincidence that Mahershala has been a star in 2 of the last 3 Oscar Winners for Best Picture.
3. Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey Jr. is synonymous with Tony Stark. He is Iron Man. In my most humble of opinions, RDJ has produced the greatest run as a superhero in film history, and in doing so, has created something beyond the character itself. When he took up the role of Iron Man in 2008, Downey launched the single most successful movie franchise we have ever seen, to which he has been dubbed the godfather for the essential role he has played. Our culture itself has single-handedly been altered due to the work of this man. I cannot understate how momentous his acting has been on the world.
But he is not just a one trick pony! Downey is a master of dialects, even starring as legendary British detective Sherlock Holmes. Considering RDJ is American and there are literally thousands of actual British actors who could have fit the part too, that is telling. In “Natural Born Killers”, he shows off by doing a flawless Australian accent. And perhaps the strangest thing, he was nominated for an Oscar in 2008 for a role in the comedy, “Tropic Thunder”. No, the weird part is not that a Ben Stiller movie was nominated for an Oscar (although that boggles the mind to think about), but the fact that he was in blackface for the entire movie. I guess it is ok because he did it to parody method actors taking their jobs too far and so there was a point to it… Maybe? You know what, defending blackface is not the hill I want to die on. Either way, he is an extraordinarily talented actor who has already accomplished so much and now has more freedom to do more varied projects, and that can only be a good thing for movie-goers.
2. Leonardo DiCaprio
When I started putting together this list, I was positive Leo would be in my top spot. It is not that he isn’t deserving, it is just that the frequency of his projects has lessened in recent years, and you cannot win the MVP if you do not play every game. But Leo has earned the right to be overly selective about which roles he takes. He has already solidified himself as one of the best to ever grace the silver screen, and reasonably, he views his time and effort as a valuable commodity that shouldn’t be wasted on just anything. Thankfully, he will be starring in the upcoming Quentin Tarantino film “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood” later this year, which will be his first film in four years.
Leo finally won his first Oscar in 2015 for “The Revenant” when director Alejandro Iñárritu essentially just dumped him into the Arctic and filmed him surviving for his life. It is an intense film that is just brutal (I mean that in a good way). But he has played so many iconic characters throughout his career, including a disabled child, Arnie Grape, back in 1993, for which he was nominated for his first Oscar as a teenager. He has also played the lead in “Titanic”, “The Aviator”, “Blood Diamond”, “The Departed”, Shutter Island”, “Gangs of New York”, “Inception”, “The Great Gatsby”, and “The Wolf of Wall Street” among others. But who could forget his despicable turn as the charismatic slave owner, Calvin Candie, in “Django Unchained”, where Leo actually sliced his hand open during filming and rubbed his actual blood on an unassuming Kerry Washington’s face? I live for creepy stories like that. It is hard to pick a favorite role of his, but as long as he is still making films, Leo has to be considered in the conversation for best actor right now.
1. Christian Bale
Christian Bale is a bonafide lunatic (That must be read in Stephen A. Smith’s voice). There is method acting and then there is whatever Bale does. I am not an expert in psychology but I assume the height of mental illness is when the brain sheds itself of the instinct for self-preservation, and if Bale isn’t trying to kill himself, he certainly doesn’t fear the prospect of death. Anyone who sheds all that weight to play Trevor Reznik in “The Machinist”, just to bulk up to play Batman a few months later, maybe is flying too close to the Sun. It’s crazy enough to think he also played Dick “Oh, it’s just a small cardiac arrest this time” Cheney just this past year in “Vice”. His organs must hate him or he hates his organs. Either way, he is not a well man.
But his acting prowess is second to none. He is a master at using dialects, often confusing fans when he speaks in his rarely used native Welch inflection in interviews. At this point, he is widely regarded as the best live-action Batman incarnation we have ever seen. He has played a drug-addicted boxing coach, a mentally unstable competitive illusionist, an overweight con man, a socially awkward financial genius, an insomniac who is on the verge of death, a Wall Street executive with a fetish for murder, and the most controversial Vice President in modern history. Along the way, he has accumulated 4 Oscar nominations in this decade and a win. Whatever the role, you can be sure Bale is going to commit one hundred percent. The man is dedicated to his craft, at great cost to his own well-being, but he consistently puts out phenomenal performances and is undoubtedly deserving of the title of the Best Film Actor Right Now.