best film: James Dean may have never made a masterpiece, but he never made an unarchiveable film either – or for that matter, even a film that did not at least flirt with the top ten (10) of its respective year. His best film is Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and it is not because of the iconic red jacket or drag race. Ray was at the height of his powers during this stretch (Johnny Guitar was just the year prior in 1954). Rebel bests East of Eden (from the consummate Elia Kazan) and Giant (directed
best film: Matt Damon's blue chip entries now include four (4) films that outpace the rest: Saving Private Ryan (1998) and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) - back to back in the late 1990s. The Departed (2006) belongs in this company, and then Oppenheimer (2023) to give Damon even more depth here in the 2020s. Of the four (4) – it is actually on in The Talented Mr. Ripley (Damon plays the titular Tom Ripley) where Damon is given the most to work with – though he does high quality work in all of the aforementioned films.
best film: Fernando Rey is a major component of both of Luis Buñuel’s best two films: Viridiana (1960) and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972). He plays Don Jaime in Viridiana and Don Rafael Acosta in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. There is not much separating the two – both are masterpieces. Rey has a third masterpiece on his resume as well – he plays the drug trafficker (and another character with a position of evil and power/wealth) Alain Charnier in The French Connection (1971) this time not with Buñuel of course, but with William Fredkin.
best film: Jim Jarmusch is an underrated auteur (he currently sits outside the top 100 on the TSPDT list) so it may surprise some to see Dead Man (1995) as Johnny Depp’s best overall film. There is also much to admire in the artist accomplishments of Platoon (1986) from Oliver Stone, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) from Terry Gilliam and Sleepy Hollow (1999) from Tim Burton. Depp is on screen for maybe two scenes and is easy to miss in Platoon – he was just getting his start in the mid 1980s – but Depp is
best film: White Heat by a mile. As good as Yankee Doodle Dandy and The Roaring Twenties (Cagney’s second-best film) are - the answer here is easily the 1949 film from Raoul Walsh. James Cagney plays Cody Jarrett - a bat out of hell with a mother complex. It is a role filled from beginning to end with big, bold choices – and Cagney is pitch perfect. If Cagney does not land this high wire act - the character – the film, in total, could be in real trouble. And as a cherry on top… by God …
best film: The Dark Knight is the very rare collision of a top tier auteur working in the action genre or superhero subgenre. Christopher Nolan brings his penchant for big set pieces and parallel editing to the table behind the camera – but it is Heath Ledger in front of the camera who dazzles and owns. The closest competition here is Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain from 2005. best performance: Heath Ledger is hypnotic as the Joker – and terrifying. In The Dark Knight, Ledger flat out commands the camera’s attention. The statement on method acting and Ledger’s
best film: Counting even the small roles – a bite size spot in Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate (technically Willem Dafoe’s debut), a two minute performance in The Aviator, and a very minor role in Asteroid City (2023), Willem Dafoe is in a whopping eleven (11) must-see or masterpiece level films. Sifting through it all – it does feel like Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) is his best film. This is still not a substantial role for Dafoe (he plays a villain - bad guy muscle – the Jopling character) – but he is memorable at least
best film: Lawrence of Arabia (1962) from David Lean found itself at #16 on the last update of the greatest films of all-time ranking making it the easy selection for Peter O’Toole as his best film. So, while his category is a considerable strength for O’Toole, the lack of competition is a little worrisome. The silver medal winner here is Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987). And from there the drop off is steep. Still, Lawrence is one of the most handsomely photographed films in cinema history. Any discussion of the best biopic (Citizen Kane and Raging Bull)
best film: Erland Josephson worked often with the great Swedish master Ingmar Bergman - so this category is going to be crowded with seminal works like Cries & Whispers (1973), Autumn Sonata (1978), and Fanny and Alexander (1982). Josephson does not rewrite history with his genius in these three films (none land on his top five performance list below) – but he is not a prop or wallpaper either – he is a strong, supporting influence. The next tier of Bergman classics featuring Josephson include Scenes from a Marriage (1973) and Face to Face (1976) – both with
best film: Robert Duvall does far more than just appear in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 war nightmare epic Apocalypse Now – he lights the screen on fire as Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore. Duvall delivers his “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” monologue before the swirling helicopters and madness behind him. Duvall plays Kilgore coldly – delivering his lines with clean dissociation of the hell going on behind him (the point here is how far gone Kilgore is not to be effected). Duvall plays Tom Hagen in both Godfather films of course in 1972 and 1974
best film: Anatoliy Solonitsyn has a role in every Andrey Tarkovsky film from 1966’s Andrei Rublev to Stalker in 1979. Each of these films are achievements worthy of close study and are of high artistic merit. These films (Andrei Rublev, Solaris, Mirror, and Stalker - in order) all stagger - and echo on as towering cinematic works. For Solonitsyn, he is front and center for two of them (Andrei Rublev, Stalker) and far more in the background in the other two (Solaris, Mirror). Stalker is the best of them – and it is one of the preeminent films
best film: The Big Lebowski. It is almost always a great sign for an actor when their best film lines up with their best performance. The Big Lebowski is a comic masterpiece that ranks amongst not only the best all-time comedies, but the best all-time detective films, films in the 1990s and works in the Coen brothers canon. That is saying something. Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate (1980) is the closest contender. From the opening of the Blue Danube on the Harvard lawn to roller stake dance set piece rolling around with Steadicam – this is an ambitious work.