Lost in the Movies: 90 Years of Actors: my "alternate Oscars", 1923 - 2012

90 Years of Actors: my "alternate Oscars", 1923 - 2012

My picks for best actors year-by-year, based on my choices in the Wonders in the Dark weekly poll

Read the introduction for background & further explanation

From Severin Mars, who died before this lineup even opens (my ballot's only posthumous award) to Ryan Gosling, born the same decade as me this list runs the gamut of acting eras and styles. I think of myself as someone who prefers a "naturalistic" style of performance, but scrolling through these characters I notice that many are over-the-top and larger-than-life. Clearly I enjoy an actor who's willing to chew scenery with gusto - but along with colorfulness, I appreciate intensity. There are quiet types below as well, but they tend to simmer beneath the surface. These actors skew younger than I expected and to my surprise I see that none are over sixty. I also left out some notable names (Jack Nicholson, in particular, is a grievous absence) while rewarding others numerous times but some of those absences can at least be found on the upcoming supporting list, a small consolation perhaps but a great performance is a great performance regardless of size.

Allan was the one who determined what counted as a lead vs. supporting performance, and I think in some cases he departed from the Academy's criterion. I followed suit. In addition to the actor's name, film's title, and accompanying image (I tried to find pictures isolating or at least focusing on the person in question), I also included the director(s) who worked with the performer, the name of the character portrayed, and the actor's lifespan so you can roughly glean their age at the time. Below the full lineup, I've listed another series of links - these lead to other posts on this blog covering the films these actors appeared in.

So far this week I've posted my top feature films and top short films for 1923 - 2012


Severin Mars (1873 - 1921)
...as Sisif in
•La Roue (dir. Abel Gance)
Emil Jannings (1884 - 1950)
...as Hotel Doorman in
•The Last Laugh (dir. F.W. Murnau)
Jean Forest (1912 - 1980)
...as Jean Amsler in
•Visages d'Enfants (dir. Jacques Feyder)
Buster Keaton (1895 - 1966)
...as Johnnie Gray in
•The General (dir. Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman)
Lon Chaney (1883 - 1930)
...as Alonzo in
•The Unknown (dir. Tod Browning)
Erich von Stroheim (1885 - 1957)
...as Prince Nicki in
•The Wedding March (dir. Erich von Stroheim)
Maurice Chevalier (1888 - 1972)
...as Count Alfred Renard in
•The Love Parade (dir. Ernst Lubitsch)
Gary Cooper (1901 - 1961)
...as Legionnaire Tom Brown in
•Morocco (dir. Josef von Sternberg)
Boris Karloff (1887 - 1969)
...as the Creature in
•Frankenstein (dir. James Whale)
Michel Simon (1895 - 1975)
...as Boudu in
•Boudu Saved From Drowning (dir. Jean Renoir)
Charles Laughton (1899 - 1962)
...as King Henry VIII in
•The Private Life of Henry VIII (dir. Alexander Korda)
John Barrymore (1882 - 1942)
...as Oscar Jaffe in
•Twentieth Century (dir. Howard Hawks)
Charles Laughton (1899 - 1962)
...as Captain Bligh in
•Mutiny on the Bounty (dir. Frank Lloyd)
Walter Huston (1883 - 1950)
...as Sam Dodsworth in
•Dodsworth (dir. William Wyler)
Henry Fonda (1905 - 1982)
...as Eddie Taylor in
•You Only Live Once (dir. Fritz Lang) 
Errol Flynn (1909 - 1959)
...as Sir Robin of Locksley in
•The Adventures of Robin Hood
(dir. Michael Curtiz & William Keighley)
Henry Fonda (1905 - 1982)
...as Abe Lincoln in
•Young Mr. Lincoln (dir. John Ford)
James Stewart (1908 - 1997)
...as Alfred Kralik in
•The Shop Around the Corner (dir. Ernst Lubitsch)
Walter Huston (1883 - 1950)
...as "Scratch" in
•The Devil and Daniel Webster (dir. William Dieterle)
Humphrey Bogart (1899 - 1957)
...as Rick Blaine in
•Casablanca (dir. Michael Curtiz)
Roger Livesey (1906 - 1976)
...as Clive Candy in
•The Life and Death of Col. Blimp
(dir. Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger)
Laurence Olivier (1907 - 1989)
...as King Henry V in
•Henry V (dir. Laurence Olivier)
Ray Milland (1905 - 1986)
...as Don Birnam in
•The Lost Weekend (dir. Billy Wilder)
James Stewart (1908 - 1997)
...as George Bailey in
•It's a Wonderful Life (dir. Frank Capra)
John Garfield (1913 - 1952)
...as Charley Davis in
•Body and Soul (dir. Robert Rossen)
Robert Ryan (1909 - 1973)
...as Joe Parkson in
•Act of Violence (dir. Fred Zinnemann)
James Cagney (1899 - 1986)
...as Cody Jarrett in
•White Heat (dir. Raoul Walsh)
Humphrey Bogart (1899 - 1957)
...as Dixon Steele in
•In a Lonely Place (dir. Nicholas Ray)
Marlon Brando (1924 - 2004)
...as Stanley Kowalski in
•A Streetcar Named Desire (dir. Elia Kazan)
Takashi Shimura (1905 - 1982)
...as Kanji Watanabe in
•Ikiru (dir. Akira Kurosawa)
Yves Montand (1921 - 1991)
...as Mario in
•The Wages of Fear (dir. Henri-Georges Clouzot)
1954 (tie)
Marlon Brando (1924 - 2004)
...as Terry Malloy in
•On the Waterfront (dir. Elia Kazan)
1954 (tie)
Bing Crosby (1903 - 1977)
...as Frank Elgin in
•The Country Girl (dir. George Seaton)
Ernest Borgnine (1917 - 2012)
...as Marty Piletti in
•Marty (dir. Delbert Mann)
John Wayne (1907 - 1979)
...as Ethan Edwards in
•The Searchers (dir. John Ford)
Tony Curtis (1925 - 2010)
...as Sidney Falco in
•Sweet Smell of Success (dir. Alexander Mackendrick)
James Stewart (1908 - 1997)
...as John "Scottie" Ferguson in
•Vertigo (dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
Jean-Pierre Leaud (b. 1944)
...as Antoine Doinel in
•The 400 Blows (dir. Francois Truffaut)
Albert Finney (b. 1936)
...as Arthur Seaton in
•Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
(dir. Karel Reisz)

Toshiro Mifune (1920 - 1977)
...as Sanjuro Kuwabatake in
•Yojimbo (dir. Akira Kurosawa)
Peter O'Toole (b. 1932)
...as T.E. Lawrence in
•Lawrence of Arabia (dir. David Lean)
Richard Harris (1930 - 2002)
...as Frank Machin in
•This Sporting Life (dir. Lindsay Anderson)
Rod Steiger (1925 - 2002)
...as Sol Nazerman in
•The Pawnbroker (dir. Sidney Lumet)
Orson Welles (1915 - 1985)
...as Sir John Falstaff in
•Chimes at Midnight (dir. Orson Welles)
Vaclav Neckar (b. 1943)
...as Milos Hrma in
•Closely Watched Trains (dir. Jiri Menzel)
Dustin Hoffman (b. 1937)
...as Benjamin Braddock in
•The Graduate (dir. Mike Nichols)
Malcolm McDowell (b. 1943)
...as Mick Travis in
•If... (dir. Lindsay Anderson)
Colin Blakely (1930 - 1987)
...as Jesus Christ in
•Son of Man (dir. Gareth Davies)
George C. Scott (1927 - 1999)
...as Gen. George S. Patton in
•Patton (dir. Franklin Schaffner)
Malcolm McDowell (b. 1943)
...as Alex DeLarge in
•A Clockwork Orange (dir. Stanley Kubrick)
Klaus Kinski (1926 - 1991)
...as Don Lope de Aguirre in
•Aguirre, the Wrath of God (dir. Werner Herzog)
Robert Mitchum (1917 - 1997)
...as Eddie "Fingers" Coyle in
•The Friends of Eddie Coyle (dir. Peter Yates)
Al Pacino (b. 1940)
...as Michael Corleone in
•The Godfather Part II (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
Al Pacino (b. 1940)
...as Sonny Wortzik in
•Dog Day Afternoon (dir. Sidney Lumet)
Robert De Niro (b. 1943)
...as Travis Bickle in
•Taxi Driver (dir. Martin Scorsese)
Jack Nance (1943 - 1996)
...as Henry Spencer in
•Eraserhead (dir. David Lynch)
Anthony Hopkins (b. 1937)
...as Corky Withers & Fats in
•Magic (dir. Richard Attenborough)
Peter Sellers (1925 - 1980)
...as Chance the Gardener in
•Being There (dir. Hal Ashby)
Robert De Niro (b. 1943)
...as Jake LaMotta in
•Raging Bull (dir. Martin Scorsese)
John Heard (b. 1945)
...as Alex Cutter in
•Cutter's Way (dir. Ivan Passer)
Dustin Hoffman (b. 1937)
...as Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels in
•Tootsie (dir. Sydney Pollack)
Robert Duvall (b. 1930)
...as Mac Sledge in
•Tender Mercies (dir. Bruce Beresford)
F. Murray Abraham (b. 1939)
...as Antonio Salieri in
•Amadeus (dir. Milos Forman)
Dustin Hoffman (b. 1937)
...as Willy Loman in
•Death of a Salesman (dir. Volker Schlondorff)
Michael Gambon (b. 1940)
...as Philip Marlow in
•The Singing Detective (dir. Jon Amiel)
Michael Douglas (b. 1944)
...as Gordon Gekko in
•Wall Street (dir. Oliver Stone)
Jeremy Irons (b. 1948)
...as Beverly & Elliot Mantle in
•Dead Ringers (dir. David Cronenberg)
Daniel Day-Lewis (b. 1957)
...as Christy Brown in
•My Left Foot (dir. Jim Sheridan)
Gerard Depardieu (b. 1948)
...as Cyrano de Bergerac in
•Cyrano de Bergerac (dir. Jean-Paul Rappeneau)
River Phoenix (1970 - 1993)
...as Eddie Birdlace in
•Dogfight (dir. Nancy Savoca)
Denzel Washington (b. 1954)
...as Malcolm X in
•Malcolm X (dir. Spike Lee)
David Thewlis (b. 1963)
...as Johnny in
•Naked (dir. Mike Leigh)
Johnny Depp (b. 1963)
...as Edward Wood, Jr. in
•Ed Wood (dir. Tim Burton)
Vincent Cassel (b. 1966)
...as Vinz in
•La Haine (dir. Mathieu Kassovitz)
Ewan McGregor (b. 1971)
...as Renton in
•Trainspotting (dir. Danny Boyle)
Nick Nolte (b. 1941)
...as Wade Whitehouse in
•Affliction (dir. Paul Schrader)
Jeff Bridges (b. 1949)
...as the Dude in
•The Big Lebowski (dir. Joel & Ethan Coen)
Sean Penn (b. 1960)
...as Emmet Ray in
•Sweet and Lowdown (dir. Woody Allen)

Mark Ruffalo (b. 1967)
...as Terry Prescott in
•You Can Count on Me (dir. Kenneth Lonergan)
Denzel Washington (b. 1954)
...as Det. Alonzo Harris in
•Training Day (dir. Antoine Fuqua)
Nicolas Cage (b. 1964)
...as Charlie & Donald Kaufman in
•Adaptation (dir. Spike Jonze)
Min-sik Choi (b. 1962)
...as Dae-su Oh in
•Oldboy (dir. Chan-wook Park)
Geoffrey Rush (b. 1951)
...as Peter Sellers in
•The Life & Death of Peter Sellers
(dir. Stephen Hopkins)
Heath Ledger (1979 - 2008)
...as Ennis Del Mar in
•Brokeback Mountain (dir. Ang Lee)
Sacha Baron Cohen (b. 1971)
...as Borat in
•Borat (dir. Larry Charles)
Daniel Day-Lewis (b. 1957)
...as Daniel Plainview in
•There Will Be Blood (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
Mickey Rourke (b. 1952)
...as Randy "The Ram" Robinson in
•The Wrestler (dir. Darren Aronofsky)
Sam Rockwell (b. 1968)
...as Sam Bell in
•Moon (dir. Duncan Jones)
Ryan Gosling (b. 1980)
...as Dean in
•Blue Valentine (dir. Derek Cianfrance)
Michael Fassbender (b. 1977)
...as Carl Jung in
•A Dangerous Method (dir. David Cronenberg)
Joaquin Phoenix (b. 1974)
...as Freddie Quell in
•The Master (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)

Explore these films on Lost in the Movies:
La Roue (Severin Mars)
The General (Buster Keaton)
The Wedding March (Erich von Stroheim)
 Morocco (Gary Cooper)
Frankenstein (Boris Karloff)
You Only Live Once (Henry Fonda)
Young Mr. Lincoln (Henry Fonda)
Casablanca (Humphrey Bogart)
Henry V (Laurence Olivier)
The Lost Weekend (Ray Milland)
It's a Wonderful Life (James Stewart)
In a Lonely Place (Humphrey Bogart)
On the Waterfront (Marlon Brando)
The Country Girl (Bing Crosby)
Marty (Ernest Borgnine)
The Searchers (John Wayne)
Sweet Smell of Success (Tony Curtis)
Vertigo (James Stewart)
The 400 Blows (Jean-Pierre Leaud)
Lawrence of Arabia (Peter O'Toole)
This Sporting Life (Richard Harris)
The Graduate (Dustin Hoffman)
Son of Man (Colin Blakely)
Patton (George C. Scott)
A Clockwork Orange (Malcolm McDowell)
Taxi Driver (Robert De Niro)
Raging Bull (Robert De Niro)
Cutter's Way (John Heard)
Amadeus (F. Murray Abraham - not in clip)
Wall Street (Michael Douglas)
Malcolm X (Denzel Washington)
Naked (David Thewlis)
La Haine (Vincent Cassel)
Affliction (Nick Nolte)
The Big Lebowski (Jeff Bridges)
You Can Count on Me (Mark Ruffalo)
Training Day (Denzel Washington)
Adaptation (Nicolas Cage - not in clip)
A Dangerous Method (Michael Fassbender)

Additionally, 15 of films featuring my Best Actor performances appear alongside brief capsules in:


Anonymous said...

For me....

1994: Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump (dir. Robert Zemeckis)
1995: Vincent Cassel in La Haine (dir. Mathieu Kassovitz)
1996: Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade (dir. Billy Bob Thornton)
1997: Kevin Spacey in L.A. Confidential (dir. Cutis Hanson)
1998: Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski (dir. Joel & Ethan Coen)
1999: Richard Farnsworth in The Straight Story (dir. David Lynch)
2000: Tony Leung in In the Mood for Love (dir. Wong Kar-Wai)
2001: Denzel Washington in Training Day (dir. Antoine Fuqua)
2002: Nicolas Cage in Adaptation. (dir. Spike Jonze)
2003: Bill Murray in Lost in Translation (dir. Sofia Coppola)
2004: Geoffrey Rush in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (dir. Stephen Hopkins)
2005: Mickey Rourke in Sin City (dir. Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller)
2006: Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland (dir. Kevin MacDonald)
2007: Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood (dir. P.T. Anderson)
2008: Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler (dir. Darren Aronofsky)
2009: Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer (dir. Marc Webb)
2010: Jeff Bridges in True Grit (dir. Joel & Ethan Coen)
2011: Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Hesher (dir. Spencer Susser)
2012: Joaquin Phoenix in the Master (dir. P.T. Anderson)

Joel Bocko said...

Fair amount of overlap here. I haven't seen Sling Blade, The Straight Story, True Grit or Hesher yet (in fact I'm not actually sure what Hesher is; I'll have to look it up!)

Nice to see some love for Gump. I think the only award I gave it was Supp. Actress for Robin Wright. I understand the criticisms of it, but I've always found it immensely entertaining as a yarn.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, I find Gump to be a very overrated and fluffy film, but it still entertains and Hanks carries the film with his absent-minded charm...

Similar to your choice of Johnny Depp in Ed Wood, except I thought Hanks' was more an accomplishment in a challenge of a role that could've easily been deemed tasteless or campy if handled incorrectly. Depp's role seemed sincere from the start...

A similar reason for Hanks was why I chose Thornton for Sling Blade... as well as the fact that Childers is just such a fascinating and tragic character but in his tragedy is the only place where he finds complete solace.

Your choice of Sacha Baron Cohen interested me and I think I have to largely agree, though I have a soft spot for the bait-and-switch of Idi Amin where Whitaker portrays first as charming, friendly and generally pleasant then makes a monstrous shift to paranoid, egotistical and savage.

Bridges was chosen for True Grit for particularly living up to the name of the movie and Hesher is my favorite role by Joseph Gordon-Levitt yet (though the movie is more or less average... and it may just be the metalhead in me) - a role so powerful it immediately reminded Metallica of their late bassist Cliff Burton when they were screening the movie to consider granting them song royalties...

Doug's Blog said...

What a great list Joel. I'm sure there's a quibble I could have wiht one or two of these but they are all solid winners in "alt" list.

Bogart as Dixon Steel in "In a Lonely Place" (1950) is an inspiration as far as I'm concerned. Certainly his most unsettling performance.

Joel Bocko said...

Bogart usually gets pegged as an icon before an actor, someone like John Wayne who carried the same persona from film to film. It's true that Bogart's look and voice were so distinctive that he's always "Bogie" to a certain extent in the viewer's mind; however, his characters often vary wildly - Dixon Steele is nothing like Sam Spade is nothing like Captain Queeg is nothing like Rick Blaine etc. They often have a wounded quality, a touch of paranoia, and a kind of sneering toughness, his trademarks, but fundamentally these characters are very different people, and even his physical appearance can seem to change from role to role. There's something just rawly sensitive about Steele, as if the hurt can't help but peek through. I realized voting for all these categories how much In a Lonely Place sticks out in my mind because it one quite a few of my "awards." It's been years since I've seen it (twice, I think) but the impression lingers and perhaps even grows.

Joel Bocko said...

(Oh, and not to mention Fred C. Dobbs above, who ends up as pathetic as, say, Marlowe ends up cool).

Michael said...

Very surprised by Olivier's 1944 win. I always thought of Henry V being a triumph of direction, with his Richard III being the superior performance.

Michael said...

Also interesting that most of your "repeat winners" have wins within five years of each other, with a few exceptions, which would imply that most great actors get on a "roll" of sorts where they are consistently knocking it out of the park, as opposed to a long career of great performances.

Joel Bocko said...

From everything I've heard, you're probably right though sadly I still haven't seen Richard III (I have a big chronological canon Netflic queue which is in the 1950s now so I should be reaching it soon). Certainly Henry, particularly after assuming the throne, is not necessarily one of Shakespeare's most compelling characters but Olivier being Olivier, he plays the part with gusto and of the competition I found his work most compelling (not sure of closest competition, maybe MacMurray for Double Indemnity?).

Definitely a brilliant work of direction. Lots of competition that year though - Maya Deren for At Land, Edward Dmytryk for the sublimely atmospheric Murder my Sweet, Otto Preminger for Laura, Sergei Eisenstein for Ivan the Terrible. Still, Olivier would top them all I think. Still, he was slightly edged out by a completely out-of-left-field choice, Gjon Mili for Jammin' the Blues, to me the most sublime use of music onscreen within a field of intense competition. What Mili does with camera, cutting, lighting, and timing of performance is nothing short of miraculous. But Olivier's work is great too (many would defer to him on scale alone, but I don't really tilt in that direction, at least most of the time - though there admittedly were occasions where those factors played strongly). Ultimately it's apples/oranges.

Joel Bocko said...

Re: 2nd point - that's true, and some have said the same of directors although increasingly I've come to see more creative longevity in director's careers than I used to. Favorability comes and goes, and styles shift, but I think talent remains (actors, more than directors, seem dependent on the whims of agents, producers, and audiences - not that directors don't receive weak material too but maybe it's easier for them to transcend it?).

Michael said...

"Actors, more than directors, seem dependent on the whims of agents, producers, and audiences - not that directors don't receive weak material too but maybe it's easier for them to transcend it?"

I'd agree with this.

I also want to say how pleased I am to see you give some kudos to Sacha Baron Cohen. I've been saying that performance was award-worthy for seven years, but no one will listen! Funny how cinephiles always complain about classic comedians like Chaplin or Keaton never getting properly rewarded for their films, but still ignore modern comedians. Oh well.

Doug's Blog said...

Excellent distinctions between Bogart the actor and Bogart the icon, Joel. I think its true that "In Lonely Place" is his most haunted role--there is no redemption for Dixon or Dobbs, showing how Bogart was a actor first and a star second.

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