Every single one of these questions requires a set of rules in order to limit the amount of choices. I decided that for this one, they have to be currently working (which also means they have to be alive). That instantly eliminates some of my all-time favorites, including Paul Newman, Orson Welles, Sean Connery (not dead yet, just retired), Steve McQueen, and Jack Lemmon. And I also wanted to eliminate some of the pantheon of great actors (Pacino, De Niro, Hack-Man, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson), since you can find list after list on the internet covering those guys. I realize that these criteria skews the entire list younger, but whatever. If you don’t know what Paul Newman movies to watch, you should probably go eat some paste or color or something.
The next thing I looked at was the actors’ overall likeability. For someone to be my favorite, they have to have the quality that makes whatever project they are working on watchable. That’s hard to do, considering Hollywood pumps out some crapola over the past decade. But the actors that make this list are those types that make even the crappiest of scripts interesting. Nobody bats 100%. So I’ll give you the actor and a few examples of films I love them in (and that you should watch). And this is not ranked in order, they’re just numbered. Ranking is stupid.
1. Robert Downey Jr.
He’s f–king great in: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Sherlock Holmes, Iron Man, Chaplin, Wonderboys, Less Than Zero
Downey is infinitely likeable with one of the better comebacks from Charlie Sheen-esque drug fueled crazyland in Hollywood. He can make even the most cumbersome of dialogue seem conversational and unforced. And he completely owned the roles of Tony Stark (Iron Man), Sherlock Holmes, and Harry Lockheart (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which may be my favorite role of his). I’m curious to see how his Tony Stark fits into The Avengers, since he has such a dominant personality. But in Joss (Whedon) I trust .
2. Sam Rockwell
He’s f–king great in: Moon, Matchstick Men, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Green Mile, Choke, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
If you have doubts of why he should/would be on this list, watch Moon. Then, immediately after, watch Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. You will see him completely disappear into those completely different roles. And you will f–king love both of the characters. I thought he was completely wasted as Justin Hammer (Iron Man 2), which is a shame. But then again, so was that movie.
And the man sure can dance.
3. Alan Rickman
He’s f–king great in: Die Hard, The Harry Potter movies, Galaxy Quest, Dogma, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Sweeney Todd
The man’s American film debut was Die Hard. DIE HARD. And tell me you can read any of the Potter books without seeing him as Snape. And I call you a liar. Alan Rickman has one of the greatest voices in modern cinema.
4. Daniel Day Lewis
He’s f–king great in: There Will Be Blood, Gangs of New York, The Boxer, The Last of the Mohicans, My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father
OK, so he’s a friggin weirdo, which violates that whole likeability criteria I set forth early. But rules are made to be broken. And if I didn’t include him on here, it would have felt wrong. But he literally pours himself into these characters, becoming notorious for his whole method acting thing. For Mohicans, he lived off the land without a phone or electricity while learning how to track and skin animals. He apparently never left character while filming My Left Foot, which made production awkward to say the least (he played an artist with SEVERE cerebral palsy which only allowed him control over…wait for it…his left foot). During the filming of Gangs of New York, he refused to leave character or wear anything but his period-authentic wardrobe, even after getting extremely ill because of it (due to hypothermia from his wet cotton costume). Bill the Butcher is straight bad ass.
5. Christian Bale
He’s f–king great in: The Batman movies, American Pyscho, Reign of Fire, The Prestige, The Fighter, Public Enemies, Empire of the Sun
Again, his on-set meltdown and beratment of a crew member may invalidate his inclusion on this list. But f–k you, it’s my list. And the inclusion of Christian Bale in any movie tends to make me at least give it a chance. Sure, the whole Batman voice is kind of obnoxious. But I heard that a line was removed from the original script that said he had a modulator installed in the cowl to alter his voice. They probably should have left that in. And if you want to question his range, watch The Machinist. He is barely recognizable, having dropped almost 60 pounds due to a diet of tuna, apples, and cigarettes. He then turned around and put all that weight back on for Batman Begins. That’s just sick.
Honorable Mention: John Cusack, Alan Arkin, JK Simmons, Joel Edgerton, Denzel Washington, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Chris Evans, Ryan Reynolds, Simon Pegg, Michael Sheen