I've been mulling over this topic for a few weeks now and the fact that I've never procrastinated this long about a post (and the fact that I've been absent from this page for a while now), I figured its as good a time as any to roll out 4 nominations for best actor since... ohh the arbitrary year of 1985! Please feel obliged to flood the comments section and list your favorites as well. I'm sure there's a ton of actors I'm missing after this quick reflection.
1. Robert Downey Jr.
Even though this is not a chronological list, placing Downey Jr. at number 1 is a Freudian slip. Since coming out of rehab in late 2001 after a series of drug and weapon arrests, Downey Jr. has proven the best is yet to come and that whatever demons he was facing in the previous years, they weren't the driving force behind his electricity on screen. Downey Jr. is an actor who commands the screen, demanding attention from characters both big and small. One year, he tears up the screen as the main character in 1997's "Two Girls and a Guy", and then retreats into smaller supporting roles in 1998's "Gingerbread Man" and "U.S. Marshalls"- 2 roles that allow him to sink into the background while remaining viable aspects of both film's overall appeal. In recent years, it seems Downey Jr. can do no wrong, balancing a sharp wit and sense of humor in everything he does. From the recent "Zodiac" to 2005's "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang", his presence in American film is singular. And then there's his performance in "Wonder Boys", probably one of the finest pieces of acting he's ever done.
2. Daniel Day Lewis
Daniel day Lewis- Probably the closest this generation comes to Marlon Brando in comparison to his studied relationship with acting and the scope, Day Lewis simply doesn't work enough! With a little over 16 films since 1980, one only need to check out 2 films- 1993's "In the Name of the Father" and 2003's "Gangs of New York"- to fully understand the graces and power of Daniel Day Lewis as an actor. Throw in his roles in the films of Jim Sheridan ("The Boxer" and "My Left Foot"), "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" and "The Last of the Mohicans", and you get a sense of something special. The one thing I really looking forward to this year? His performance in P.T. Anderson's "And There Will Be Blood".
3. Cate Blanchett
Copied from an earlier post of mine which says it all about the beautiful Cate: I first remember seeing Cate Blanchett on the big screen in 1998 after her Oscar winning peformance in "Elizabeth", a film whose character required Blanchett's seething sensuality to shine through layers of thick make-up and extravagant costumes. Next came the moribund Mike Nichols comedy about stressed out air traffic controllers (yea, we all wanted to see that!)called "Pushing Tin" where Cate held her own against the sex pot hurricane that was just beginning to form around Angelina Jolie. Then came the one-two punch of "The Gift" and "Bandits", two films that required Blanchett to embody diametrically opposed characters- the first being a Southern pyschic caught up in murder and intrigue in Sam Raimi's gothic horror story, and the second as a muse towards two low-level criminals in Barry Levinson's humurous "Bandits". From there, Blanchett retreated a little into more personal works, bringint to life on the screen two strong, politically motivated women in "Charlotte Gray" and "Veronica Guerin", the latter an immensely moving performance. She then became the fanboy's dream (hey, nothing wrong with that.. I"m the one writing 1000 words about her) harboring a recurring part in Peter jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy as the ethereal Galadriel. But, her strongest performance (aside from her latest role in "Notes on a Scandal") lies in last year's gritty "Little Fish". As Tracy, a video store clerk desperately trying to keep her head above water from a past full of drug addiction and petty violence, Blanchett boldly carried the film's generic themes into a whole other realm of naturalistic glances and body language. As in "Notes on a Scandal", she proves that beauty can be a little fucked-up, a little intelligent and very scary sometimes.
4. Edward Norton
Edward Norton- Make all the comparisons you want to Robert DeNiro, but the fact is they're hard to ignore. Since breaking out as a skinhead in "American History X" (although he was pehomenal in "Primal Fear" a couple years before that) Norton consistently immerses himself in varied characters that fluctuate in emotion and intelligence. Not to mention his swagger is ultra cool. For the definitive performance, see him in Spike Lee's hugely underrated "25th Hour".