Acting is one of the most important parts of a movie as it lends believability to the story as well as offering both dramatic and emotional depth to a film. The best actors can completely disappear into a role by almost seemingly becoming the character they are playing. To make this list, an actor must still be active making movies and must have peaked as an actor sometime in the last 15 years (hence the omission of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson etc…).
The actor must also be able to play a variety of roles believably and have a decent amount of good movies to their credit. The actors were primarily ranked for their overall acting ability including their versatility, believability, intensity, and charisma. Their ability to choose good scripts was also factored in as well as the amount of quality movies and roles they have had. Of course, with the vast amount of quality actors right now, someone’s favorite will undoubtedly be left off.
15-6 @ the source
5. Sean Penn
One of the most outspoken and controversial actors out there, Sean Penn also happens to be one of the most talented. Sean Penn broke out in the early 1980′s with his role in Fast Times at Ridgemont High but he became one of the world’s most respected actors later in the 90′s with his Oscar nominated role in Dead Man Walking. After two more nominations for Sweet and Lowdown and I am Sam, he went on to win his first Oscar for his dazzling performance in Mystic River, where he played a reformed gangster who’s daughter is murdered.
A few years later, Penn again won Best Actor for his portrayal of real life politician Harvey Milk. Penn is known best for his fiery, intense acting roles but is capable of playing a variety or roles as he showed in Carlito’s Way, the Thin Red Line and the Tree of Life. In addition to his acting ability. Penn has also proved to be an extremely capable director making such acclaimed films as the Indian Runner, the Crossing Guard, The Pledge, and Into the Wild. While he currently has no films in production right now, Penn is clearly one of the most intense, versatile, and talented actors in Hollywood.
4. Philip Seymour Hoffman
Philip Seymour Hoffman began his career as one of the finest character actors in Hollywood, giving him a wide variety of roles as well as one of the most impressive filmographies of any actor. Later in the 2000′s, Hoffman began playing lead roles more and more often and his partnership with director Paul Thomas Anderson has led to their mutual benefit. A brief glance at Hoffman’s filmography shows an almost endless number of impressive roles and movies.
His first notable role was a supporting turn in Scent of A Women in 1992 but he didn’t really get going until later in the 90′s with roles in Boogie Nights and the Big Lebowski. From there on he became a regular in Paul Thomas Anderson films as well putting in acclaimed turns in other films such as the Talented Mr. Ripley, Almost Famous, and 25th Hour. In 2005, he won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of author Truman Capote, which made him one of the more prominent actors in Hollywood. He has played a variety of roles since then, including both the villain in Mission Impossible III, a maverick CIA agent in Charlie Wilson’s War, a struggling artist in Synecdoche, New York, a priest in Doubt and then in 2012 he turned in arguably his best role in the Master.
In the Master, Hoffman played Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a religious movement known as the Cause. Hoffman turned in a dazzling performance that showcased his abilities as an actor. His versatility and impressive filmography make him one of the best actors out there.
3. Joaquin Phoenix
Best known for playing dark, troubled characters, there are few actors who throw themselves so completely and utterly into their roles as Joaquin Phoenix does. Phoenix played in a series of small films in the 90′s where he earned acclaim but was not very well known. In 2000 however, Phoenix became one of the most prominent actors in Hollywood after earning an Academy Award nomination for his brilliant portrayal of the deranged Roman emperor Commodus in the acclaimed film Gladiator.
After that, Phoenix turned in excellent performances in Signs, Hotel Rwanda, and the Village before being cast in one of his most prominent roles in Walk the Line, earning another Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Johnny Cash. After a bizarre fake retirement that took him out of movies for a few years, Phoenix returned to give one of the great performances in modern movie history when he played the troubled war veteran Freddie Quells in the Master. Phoenix perfectly played his character right on the edge of overacting, but was able to keep the role just believable enough to make it seem as if Phoenix isn’t just playing the role so much as living it.
Phoenix has several interesting roles lined up, including Spike Jonze’s upcoming film Her as well as Paul Thomas Anderson’s upcoming film Inherent Vice. Phoenix is easily one of the most talented actors working today and is well on the way to becoming one of the acclaimed.
2. Michael Fassbender
The newest actor on this list, Fassbender did not get a major role until he was cast in a supporting part in the 2007 film 300. The following year, Fassbender broke out in a big way with his breathtaking portrayal of Irish political prisoner Bobby Sands in the 2008 film Hunger. Fassbender lost a tremendous amount of weight to portray Sands in his various stages of a hunger strike and had complete control of the screen whenever he appeared. The following year, he turned in two great performances in Inglorious Basterds and Fish Tank.
In 2011, Fassbender confirmed his status as one of Hollywood’s best actors with a trio of tremendous performances. The first was X-Men: First Class in which he played the conflicted anti-hero Magneto, giving him his first starring role in a major blockbuster, the second was his portrayal of Carl Jung in David Cronenberg’s a Dangerous Method, and the third was when he teamed up with Steve McQueen once again to portray Brandon Sullivan in Shame.
In 2012 he starred in the major sci-fi movie Prometheus. Despite the lukewarm reception the film received, Fassbender’s performance was near universally acclaimed. Fassbender is one of the most intense actors in Hollywood, routinely giving affecting performances in even the most unusual roles.
Despite only being prominent for about five years, Fassbender has already proved himself one of the most devoted and gifted actors of his generation. With upcoming roles in such prominent films as 12 Years a Slave, the Counselor, and Terrence Malick’s next film, Fassbender will hopefully be able to even more fully showcase his acting abilities.
1. Daniel Day-Lewis
Considered by some to be the greatest actor of all time, Daniel Day-Lewis is the only actor in history to win the Academy Award for Best Actor three times. One of the all time most devoted method actors, Daniel Day-Lewis completely throws himself into every single one of his roles. His breakout film was 1989′s My Left Foot in which he played Christy Brown, a disabled writer. His performance in the film earned him his first Oscar. His next film was the acclaimed Last of the Mohicans, where he spent weeks learning how to hunt, fish, and camp in order to show how to live in the wild.
During the 90′s he turned in acclaimed roles in the Name of the Father, Age of innocence, the Crucible, and the Boxer. In 2002 he turned in one of his best performances when he played Bill the Butcher in Martin Scorcsese’s Gangs of New York. In 2007, he turned in one of the all time great film performances when he played Daniel Plainview in There Will be Blood, a movie that earned him his second Best Actor award and has become one of the iconic roles of the 21st century.
In 2012, Daniel Day-Lewis turned in yet another iconic performance when he portrayed Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, winning his record breaking third Best Actor. Arguably the most talented actor of all time, Daniel Day-Lewis is notoriously picky about his roles, sometimes taking years between performances. Daniel Day-Lewis has reached a stage where he can play literally anything and be considered the favorite to win an Oscar and he is clearly the best actor modern movies have to offer.