The State of Hollywood: 10 Best American Born Actors
The State of Hollywood 5 (b):
10 Best American Born Actors as of 2012
By: Lawrence Napoli
It was a bit more difficult sorting through the men (Editor's Note: compared to the women) to come up with a 10 “best,” “current,” and “American born,” Hollywood actor list. Quite frankly, there are more opportunities for men in this business because those who control the means of production (writers, directors, producers) still happen to be men [who are also mostly white]. I’d like to forewarn the reader if he or she happens to be sensitive about their leading men because there will be noticeable absences on this list for the simple fact that obvious additions 10 years ago have somewhat dropped out of the game due to age, a loss of interest or (fill in the blank). NOT appearing on this list are notables: Hanks, Spacey, Travolta, Pacino, De Niro, Agents K and J, Malkovich and “JACK” Nicholson. Oh, did I touch a nerve there? I believe you all know where to send your complaints.
10) Jeff Bridges
Born: Los Angeles, California in 1949
Last major feature: True Grit and Tron: Legacy (2010)
Notable awards: 2010 SAG, Golden Globe and Academy Award for best actor in Crazy Heart
Highlights: Iron Man, K-Pax, The Contender, The Big Lebowski, The Fisher King, Tron, Last Picture Show
On a quick side note: if I could nominate the entire cast of The Big Lebowski I would (minus Tara Reid), but alas not everyone in that cast has had an opportunity to truly lead productions (though many have and I’m glad Buscemi is doing well in Boardwalk Empire). That being said, “The Dude” is every bit as awesome as the nickname that made us forget he’s just another Jeffrey Lebowski. Toss in the fact he didn’t speak a single discernible word for the entirety of True Grit and still got an Oscar nomination for it shows us that even the Academy can appreciate Jeff’s eccentricity. The man’s a true Hollywood star and although he had no major releases last year, he’s slated for two in 2013: R.I.P.D. and The Seventh Son.
9) Brad Pitt
Born: Shawnee, Oklahoma in 1963
Last major feature: Moneyball (2011)
Notable awards: 2012 NSFC best actor in The Tree of Life and Moneyball and 1996 Golden Globe for best supporting actor in Twelve Monkeys
Highlights: Inglourious Basterds, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Snatch, Fight Club, Se7en, Legends of the Fall
Often maligned for his “pretty boy” status, Pitt continues to show more seasoning as an actor these days as well as some smarter choices for the roles he signs up for. You kind of have to have more patience and discipline as an individual if you are the father of a family of 20. Say what you will about his acting ability, but his performances make the films he’s been involved with MUCH more interesting. Unlike Tom Cruise, Pitt still has a real opportunity to win an Academy Award as an actor because he can sell more than just action flicks. Until then, he’ll just have to remain envious of his wife’s Oscar.
8) Lenardo DiCaprio
Born: Los Angeles, California in 1974
Last major feature: J. Edgar (2011)
Notable awards: 2005 Golden Globe for best actor in The Aviator
Highlights: Inception, Shutter Island, The Departed, Catch Me If You Can, Titanic, Romeo + Juliet
Ah Leo, another pretty boy makes the list, but this one happens to be one I formerly had a serious beef with concerning his status as the male version of Helen of Troy to all young women as a result of his work in Titanic. Had I been getting as lucky with the ladies as Leo had in general during the late 90s, perhaps I’d feel differently. However, his filmography speaks for itself as his recent work has definitely made me more of a believer. As Brad Pitt has shown a deeper commitment to character, so too has DiCaprio as he matures as a professional. Leo has a few years on Pitt to grab that Oscar, but it’s a toss-up as to which one of them actually lands it first. His upcoming work for The Great Gatsby should be compelling enough for yet another nomination once it releases.
7) Matt Damon
Born: Boston, Massachusetts in 1970
Last major feature: We Bought a Zoo (2011)
Notable awards: 1998 Golden Globe and Academy Award for best screenplay for Good Will Hunting
Highlights: The Adjustment Bureau, True Grit, Invictus, The Bourne Trilogy, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Rounders
Yes, the best he’s managed so far for notable acting recognition is a number of nominations. The argument could easily be made that Good Will Hunting was such a phenomenal fluke that validated Damon and Affleck’s existence on the Hollywood scene that it should come to no one’s surprise that he hasn’t become the alpha actor he should be. To that I say Damon still makes this list even if GWH never existed. Sure, he’d drop a few spots, but his work on the Bourne franchise is quite balanced between the action and drama. The chemistry he had with Emily Blunt on The Adjustment Bureau was inspiring. But it was the command he demonstrated throughout Rounders that proved he not only belonged in Hollywood, he could headline it.
6) Denzel Washington
Born: Mount Vernon, New York in 1954
Last major feature: Safe House (2012)
Notable awards: 2002 Academy Award for best actor in Training Day, 1990 Golden Globe and Academy Award for best supporting actor in Glory, 2000 Golden Globe for best actor in The Hurricane
Highlights: The Book of Eli, American Gangster, DÃ©jÃ Vu, Man on Fire, Training Day, Philadelphia, Malcolm X, Glory
Easily the most decorated actor on this list; Denzel has accomplished just about everything a professional actor can aspire to in Hollywood land. Everything about this man’s acting ability can be summarized in one word: intensity! The real question is whether age is starting to catch up to him seeing how his last outing with Ryan Reynolds didn’t exactly fire up the critics in a positive way. I can’t blame an alpha actor like Denzel for doing a paycheck film, but it does hurt his “current” and “relevant” status somewhat; thus his placement at #6.
5) Philip Seymour Hoffman
Born: Fairport, New York in 1967
Last major feature: The Ides of March (2011)
Notable awards: 2006 SAG, Golden Globe and Academy Award for best actor in Capote
Highlights: Doubt, Capote, Cold Mountain, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Magnolia, The Big Lebowski
No, Mr. Hoffman does not make this list because of some “un-pretty” quota. He’s a damn fine actor whose work extends well into the indie scene while still getting much deserved respect (and bank) from Hollywood. Few actors can be so effective in both comedic and serious roles but Philip has this in spades. His films tend to be a bit more cerebral in nature so his exposure to the average movie-goer may be limited. Yet, this man is a living, breathing example that performance can transcend looks (and that’s a BIG accomplishment amidst all the plastic of La La Land). He adds instant credibility to any cast and any production, but the smart choice is always to have him slide into a featured role because he can make the whole thing Oscar worthy.
4) Edward Norton
Born: Baltimore, Maryland in 1967
Last major feature: The Bourne Legacy (2012)
Notable awards: 1997 Golden Globe for best supporting actor in Primal Fear
Highlights: The Incredible Hulk, The Illusionist, Death To Smoochy, The Score, Fight Club, American History X, Rounders
Is he a diva incapable of playing well with other marquee actors? Is his agent a money grubbing troll? Who knows the real “truth” behind the fact he was not a part of the epic cast of The Avengers because it certainly was NOT the result of poor acting. He certainly made me forget that Eric Bana practically murdered Marvel’s big green machine in tandem with Ang Lee. Norton is as skilled as actors come. He was plain evil in American History X, yet plain loveable in Death To Smoochy. His skill cannot be questioned, but if he presents chemistry issues for one’s cast, that presents a legitimate concern. Perhaps Norton is just getting a bad rap as a result of gossip gone wild. However, if so much gossip is consistent over a period of time, there may be some truth to it.
3) Morgan Freeman
Born: Memphis, Tennessee in 1937
Last major feature: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Notable awards: 2005 Academy Award for best supporting actor in Million Dollar Baby, 1990 Golden Globe for best actor in Driving Ms. Daisy
Highlights: The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Bucket List, Along Came a Spider, Se7en, The Shawshank Redemption, Unforgiven, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Glory
As the elder statesman of this list, Morgan Freeman continues to deliver impactful performances as an actor because he finds the roles that compliment his age rather than react against it. Of course, his iconic voice does much to extend his legacy as a marquee narrator (thus negating any ill effects of being “too old”). He’s still more than capable of being the single feature to any production, but he’s gravitating towards projects with strong ensemble casts. He’s won his Oscar so I can’t argue with his approach to further cementing his legacy. I personally feel he was hosed for being overlooked by the Academy for his work on Shawshank, but then everyone that wasn’t associated with Forrest Gump was overlooked in ’95.
2) Robert Downey Jr.
Born: New York City, New York in 1965
Last major feature: The Avengers
Notable awards: 2010 Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy for Sherlock Holmes, 1993 BAFTA for best actor in Chaplin
Highlights: Iron Man Trilogy, Sherlock Holmes, Tropic Thunder, A Scanner Darkly, Wonder Boys, Heart and Souls, Chaplin
(I’m not even going to mention the brilliance of Sherlock Holmes) How much money has this one individual made for Marvel Entertainment? An exact number would be difficult to come up with, but the fact that he is playing the role he was born to play in Tony Stark has a lot to do with Hollywood’s continued obsession with adapting comic book titles. Now let’s totally forget his involvement with all things Avengers and look to the fact that he got nominated for best supporting actor for his work in Topic Thunder. Tropic Thunder!?!? Don’t get me wrong; it was fairly funny, but he was the only good thing about that goofball comedy AND he got props from the Academy for doing so. This man has made “quirky” the new “sexy,” yet he isn’t the king of quirk as that title belongs to --
1) Johnny Depp
Born: Owensboro, Kentucky in 1963
Last major feature: Dark Shadows (2012)
Notable awards: 2008 Golden Globe for best performance in a musical for Sweeney Todd and nominated for just about everything else, yet never ultimately winning
Highlights: Pirates of the Caribbean Saga, Public Enemies, Finding Neverland, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, From Hell, Blow, The Ninth Gate, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands
You do of course realize that had Johnny decided to sell out and become the teenie-bopper heart throb he was being groomed for, we would be talking about an actor with an inferior filmography and absolutely zero recognition from any notable authority in the field of acting proficiency. He’d also not be on this list at all. Yet, he still hasn’t won one single Oscar despite so many nominations and other performances worthy of nomination. This reveals the inner quirk of Johnny Depp; a man determined to have his career play out the way he wants it. Depp has all the skills as he can produce any performance for any role. The only reason he doesn’t have multiple Oscars is a direct result of the projects he chooses to commit to. Depp despises the mainstream as evidenced by the soul connection he shared with Hunter S. Thompson (of all people). There are so many Oscar winning actors, yet few have been as unique as individuals let alone the roles they became famous for as Depp. Frank Sinatra would be proud that he’s “doing it his way,” but I do see Oscar gold in Johnny’s future. What’s really interesting is that an Oscar victory would not be seen as vindication for him personally. His acceptance speech would probably go something like: “Thanks for this, but I have a fresh batch of opium at home with my name on it. Bye.” It could possibly be the best acceptance speech in the history of the Oscars for the simple fact it would finish way before the orchestra played him offstage.
Those are my 10 best leading men and women of today’s Hollywood who actually originate from this country. I completely understand how Hollywood is always looking for the next “hot, young thing,” but Australia isn’t the only place they should be looking. I liken Cavill’s role as Superman to that of Patrick Stewart becoming the new captain of The Enterprise. Stewart rose above the pressure and scrutiny of such ambition because his performances were simply amazing for every episode and every film. All Cavill has to do is match that type of performance for one money and then maybe Americans will accept a Brit as the one who stands for truth, justice and so on and so forth.