40 Actors’ Best Roles – From John Wayne to Edward Norton

In this, the first of two articles, I am going to list the finest work of some of the best actors in cinema, in fact let me go further, I am going to state what I believe to be their finest performance, period. Bold? Yes, arrogant even? Sure but something I wanted to do as a celebration of the Oscar season being over. A confession? As much as I love TIFF, the best film festival on the planet, I hate that the festival, through no fault of its own, kicks off Oscar season and that for the next five months we are hammered with Oscar predictions, forecasting, articles, interviews, campaigning for that al important Academy Award nomination or win. I love the Academy Awards as much as the next film critic or writer, but I worry that with all the attention paid to the films in the running but so many sites and writers on the web, we are becoming part of the problem.

So there, I have said it, and I say it with the knowledge of having written with two major awards sites. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my time with each and was offered a degree of freedom that I appreciate more than I can say. But seeing some of these sites and their writers gain the power they have acquired simply because of the traffic on their site is alarming. Are they helping small films and performances being seen, or are they part of the bigger problem, which is deciding a film is the front runner early on and supporting it right through Oscar night whether it deserves the award or not? Granted some of the sites have brought attention to smaller films that might not otherwise got such attention, but I have been struggling with the whole thing for more than a year now.

actors best roles

I came to this site to write about film, new and old, to help young film audiences discover films made before the year they were born, to help younger audiences find Marlon Brando, John Ford, Chaplin and so many other legends of days gone by.
So for fun, to debate, here are the best performances from forty film actors. Understand this is not an article about the great film performances of all time, that will come later, but rather a group of actors and the best work of their careers.

  1. John Wayne in The Searchers (1956)
  2. James Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
  3. Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
  4. Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris (1973)
  5. Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes (1968)
  6. Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke (1967)
  7. George C. Scott in Patton (1970)
  8. Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
  9. Burt Lancaster in ATlantic City (1981)
  10. Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones (1958)
  11. Robert Redford in Jeremiah Johnson (1972)
  12. Al Pacino in The Godfather Part II (1974)
  13. Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
  14. Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie (1982)
  15. Robert Duvall in The Apostle (1997)
  16. Robert de Niro in Raging Bull (1980)
  17. Gene Hackman in The Royal Tanenbaums (2001)
  18. Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
  19. Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven (1992)
  20. Sean Penn in Milk (2008)
  21. Denzel Washington in Malcolm X (1992)
  22. Tom Hanks in Cast Away (2000)
  23. Russell Crowe in The Insider (1999)
  24. Brad Pitt in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
  25. Jeff Bridges in True Grit (2010)
  26. George Clooney in The Descendants (2011)
  27. Leonardo di Caprio in Revolutionary Road (2008)
  28. Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler (2008)
  29. Viggo Mortenson in The Road (2009)
  30. Benicio Del Toro in Che (2008)
  31. Robin Williams in Moscow on the Hudson (1984)
  32. Johnny Depp in Ed Wood (1994)
  33. Steve Martin in All of Me (1984)
  34. Eddie Murphy in Dreamgirls (2006)
  35. Matt Damon in The Talented Mr.Ripley (1999)
  36. Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Capote (2005)
  37. Joaquin Phoenix in The Master (2012)
  38. Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood (2007)
  39. Kevin Spacey in Seven (1995)
  40. Edward Norton in American History X (1998)

Stay tuned for the ladies list….

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John Foote

John Foote