best film:   The Tree of Life. With Terrence Malick’s kaleidoscope montage approach, Brad Pitt’s performance is largely a silent one – but nonetheless, it is filled with miraculous moments of acting. Pitt’s filmography includes some strong contenders to compete for this first place slot. Pitt is in a whopping nine (9) films that are graded out as must-see or masterpiece level. He is a substantial part of eight (8) of those films (12 Years a Slave is the only outlier). With Tree of Life destined for the top 100 of all-time and with more than enough to back that up –  this category of incontestable strength for Pitt.


The Tree of Life is a feather in the cap for Brad Pitt as Malick’s camera eavesdrops through open doors, open windows, and down their purposefully typical street. Pitt is the stern father. He hardens his jaw in a way he has not done before or since. This performance is physical – posture, posing, and facial expressions.


best performance:   The Assassination of Jesse James requires celebrity for this role and Brad Pitt is a large presence. Often Pitt has been described as a character actor (a compliment to his talent) in a leading man’s body. That is not the case here at least (though you could make that case using 12 Monkeys or Snatch as examples). Pitt is a leading man in Jesse James. He is both often on the screen, and when he is not, this is a Harry Lime role where he is the center of all the conversation and attention. Pitt is perfect – ominous, melancholic and cryptic.


Pitt is elusive and terrifying. He is always teetering on the edge. His Jesse James is filled with mourning and obsessed with death.


stylistic innovations/traits: Brad Pitt has been known as just about the best-looking guy on the planet for decades and that has probably helped him win some choice roles as far as casting is concerned  – but it has probably cost him in arguments like this list as to him being one of his generation’s best actors (he is just a year younger than Tony Leung now as the most recent actor on this list). But Pitt’s body of work at this point in his career is just too much to argue with – even the most dedicated of anti-Pitt holdouts have to have given up by now. His roles are varied and Pitt has clearly been strategic about who he works with. He often chooses roles to avoid typecasting, clichés or trading on his looks. He loves to ugly himself up (12 Monkeys, Burn After Reading) and take on challenging work with auteurs. He is now at twenty-four (24) films and counting in the archives. He has paired with a top fifty (50) of all-time auteur three times (David Fincher) and absolutely has been in some of the best films since about 1995 on (a very big year for him with both 12 Monkeys and Se7en). In 12 Monkeys Pitt steals every scene he is in. He plays Jeffrey Goines – a man riddled with ticks and monologues (diatribes on sanity and germs). Pitt is on the screen for maybe ten minutes and goes nuts three to four times – it is a very good role. Between Fight Club (1999) and Babel (2006) Pitt’s career seemed a little lost (this is the Troy, The Mexican, Mr. & Mrs. Smith phase). But he seemed to rededicate himself to pursuing art over commerce at that point and the ensuring run from 2006 to 2013 is a stretch few actors historically can match.  In this span, he works with Iñárritu, next a masterpiece with Andrew Dominik, then The Coen Brothers, Fincher again, Tarantino (their two collaborations have been an unmitigated success), a masterpiece with Terrence Malick, a wow performance in Moneyball – all this in a few short years. And this does not even include the two masterpieces with David Fincher in the 1990s and then, as maybe a capper, nearly thirty (30) years after his first archiveable film, he puts together a miracle of a year in 2019 with both Ad Astra and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Pitt’s 2019 certainly feels like his 1995 Robert De Niro year (both Heat and Casino).


more than thirty (30) years after his debut, Pitt wins 2019 with just one, but two of the best performances of the year (Ad Astra, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – here).


directors worked with:  David Fincher (3), Steven Soderbergh (2), Andrew Dominik (2), Quentin Tarantino (2), Ridley Scott (1), Terry Gilliam (1), Alejandro González Iñárritu (1), The Coen Brothers (1), Bennett Miller (1), Terrence Malick (1), Steve McQueen (1), James Gray (1), Damien Chazelle (1)


Pitt as the hypnotic Tyler Durden in 1999’s Fight Club. Pitt’s best single film may be with Terrence Malick, and his best performance with Andrew Dominik – but his most important single collaborator is clearly David Fincher


top five performances:

  1. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
  2. Fight Club
  3. The Tree of Life
  4. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  5. Ad Astra


archiveable films

1991- Thelma and Louise
1992- A River Runs Through It
1993- True Romance
1994- Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles
1994- Legends of the Fall
1995- Se7en
1995- Twelve Monkeys
1999- Fight Club
2000- Snatch
2001- Ocean’s Eleven
2006- Babel
2007- Ocean’s Thirteen
2007- The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
2008- Burn After Reading
2008- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
2009- Inglourious Basterds
2011- Moneyball
2011- The Tree of Life
2012- Killing Them Softly
2013- Twelve Years a Slave
2015- The Big Short
2019- Ad Astra
2019- Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
2022- Babylon