The Whatever: Acting!

There are TWO this week!

Who are your five favorite actors, and what’s your favorite performance by each, and then who are your five favorite actresses, and what’s your favorite performance by each?

(Sorry to double up, but we’ve got some big Whatevers coming up and I didn’t want to spread this out over two weeks. Besides, you guys are you guys, and I know you can do it.)


1. Harrison Ford. It’s got to be Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I like Ford because he’s fearless in the sense that he’s not afraid to show vulnerability, be it physical fear in a fist-fight or emotional fear like in the scene in Patriot Games when Jack Ryan comes apart while trying to tell his wife that their daughter’s spleen has to be removed after they were almost killed by terrorists. For my money, he’s the greatest actor of all time.

2. Bill Murray. From the man who made me laugh in What About Bob? to the man who made me cry in Lost in Translation, Murray delivers in everything he does. As brilliant as his work was in the Wes Anderson outings he’s been in, including Rushmore, which is my favorite film of all time, I’m going to have to go back to the work he did in What About Bob? as a dazzling piece of sociopathic comic insanity.

3. Steve Martin. Like Murray, he can turn on a dime from hilarious to heartfelt. I loved him in Bowfinger but I’m going to have to go with Father of the Bride as his finest hour. My parents always let me watch his movies when I was little, and I thank them for that.

4. Denzel Washington. He’s awesome in everything, but he’s a man on fire in Man on Fire. Or that speech he lays down in The Siege: “Come on General! You’ve lost men! I’ve lost men! But you — You! — you can’t do this! What if they don’t even want the sheik? Have you considered that? What if what they really want is for us to herd our children into stadiums, like we’re doing? And put soldiers on the street, and have Americans looking over their shoulders? Bend the law, shred the Constitution just a little bit? Because if we torture him, General … we do that, and everything we have fought, and bled, and died for is over. And they’ve won. They’ve already won!” Whoa.

5. Christian Bale. This guy can do anything. And even though he showed us the heart of Bruce Wayne while still creating our most ferocious and powerful Batman, my favorite performance is his inspiring turn in Rescue Dawn, in which he plays a prisoner of war whose indomitable spirit brings so much hope to his fellow captives that they plan one of the craziest and most dangerous escapes in history. Bale brings total physical and emotional dedication to every role he takes on. Bravo, sir.


1. Cate Blanchett. She’s ethereal, and versatile, and utterly amazing in everything she’s in. But as much as I love all the characters she’s created, her channeling of Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator is otherworldly.

2. Maggie Gyllenhaal. Like Christian Bale, Maggie’s another entertainer who’s gotten to the level she’s at by being totally emotionally and physically fearless. That’s why I’ve said before and I’ll say again that it’s hard to find a hotter case of the hots than the hots I’ve got for Maggie Gyllenhaal. She really grabbed me as Giselle in Mona Lisa Smile because I’ve known that kind of girl before and Maggie captured it perfectly. And one time, when I was in Chicago, I passed her on the street, and she is 11 times more beautiful in person than she is on screen. If that’s even possible. And it is. I should have said something. Oh, well.

3. Laura Linney. Beautiful, earnest, capable Laura Linney. Put her in something and I immediately believe her. I particularly loved her as the small-town sheriff in The Mothman Prophecies, which scares me to death just thinking about it.

4. Lauren Graham. Like Laura Linney, I immediately believe everything that comes out of her mouth. Her body of work as Lorelai Gilmore — in more ways than one, WHAMMY! — is the most powerful proof on the planet that the Emmy Awards are a friggin’ joke. And she makes me laugh. I love her.

5. Tina Fey. This girl came out of nowhere and has become one of the great comic actresses of all time, in a very short time. Though Baby Mama was beneath her, she was excellent in it. But as Liz Lemon on NBC’s 30 Rock, she’s as funny and as brilliant as they come. And sexy beyond all comprehension. “Chocolate! Chocolate! ACK!”

Your turn!


  1. In no particular order … some of my favorites are:


    1. Johnny Depp. The Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Benny and Joon, Secret Window, Edward Scissorhands … to name a few. I love this man.

    2. Edward Norton. GUH. Fight Club, American History X—and The Incredible Hulk, too.

    3. Christian Bale, wheee! He was wickedly cool and disturbed in The Machinist, awesome in Batman Begins, brilliant in Rescue Dawn, amazing in 3:10 to Yuma, breathtaking in The Prestige …

    4. I’m cheating and putting two actors here. Ewan McGregor! Obi-Wan, man!

    William Fichtner! Agent Mahone, creepy Underlay on Invasion, Armageddon … and The Dark Knight!

    5. Harrison Ford—agreed. I mean, this man was Han Solo. And Indiana Jones. Brilliant.


    1. Angelina Jolie. My favorite performance by her is probably in Girl, Interrupted. Yeah, definitely.

    2. Winona Ryder. Girl, Interrupted; Lost Souls; Edward Scissorhands …

    3. Scarlett Johansson. She’s gorgeous and I loved her in The Prestige, Lost in Translation … Heh, even The Island.

    4. Ellen Page. Hard Candy, Juno. Love her, she’s really talented.

    5. Hmm … Oh, what the hell. I like Jennifer Connelly, haha! A Beautiful Mind, Requiem for a Dream.

  2. Kerstin says:


    1. Tom Hanks: Without a doubt one of the greatest actors of all time. Every time he’s in a new role, I completely forget he’s ever played anything else. From Big to A League of their Own to Saving Private Ryan, Philadelphia, Forrest Gump and Apollo 13. He immerses himself into the role and you believe he is the character he’s playing. Few people are of that caliber.
    2. Johnny Depp: I could watch him play anything. His intensity on the screen is mesmerizing. He brings something fresh to each role he plays and makes it fit his style. I wasn’t a big fan of 21 Jump Street, but when I saw him in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and Benny & June, my heart belonged to him alone. He made me laugh and cry and want to sing with joy. I’m always excited to see what he’ll do next. My favorite role of his is probably as Don Juan in Don Juan de Marco.
    3. Viggo Mortenson: Another actor who immerses himself into his roles. He gives each character he plays something different, and I forget his previous characters from one movie to the next. I love his intensity and his quiet demeanor in films. His unassuming presence really makes him a focal point in every movie, every scene. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that he’s smokin’ hot. :P
    4. Clark Gable: I know. He’s been out of films since his death in 1965, but I defy anyone to find a movie that he wasn’t brilliant in. Of course most people remember him as Rhett Butler, but he was amazing as Peter Warne in “It Happened One Night” and as Victor Marswell in “Mogambo” with Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly. Of course it’s hard not to be brilliant with those two lovely ladies as co-stars. He was a man’s man and a ladies man all rolled into one. Such a great talent.
    5. Steve Zahn: In my opinion, an incredibly underrated actor. He can be funny, serious, dramatic, romantic and he can SING. I’ve never seen him in anything I didn’t like his character in. I like him best as comedic relief. I don’t necessarily need to see people in starring roles all the time. The supporting cast is sometimes the most important part of any film. And he’s one of those people that brings supporting roles into the forefront of the film. He’s got a unique talent and I think he’s capitalizing on it fairly well, I just wish he got more recognition.

    1. Cate Blanchett: Without a doubt THE best actress working today. She can play anything. And play it well. She was amazing as Queen Elizabeth, a little psycho in “Notes on a Scandal”, and completely out of this world fantastic as Katherine Hepburn in “The Aviator.” Her turn as Galadrial in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy made me love her all the more. She has such an ethereal beauty and down to earth presence. One can’t help but fall completely under her spell.
    2. Kate Winslet: She’s got an eclectic body of work. Her acting skills are superb and her choices in film reflect her willingness to take on just about any role. She doesn’t let the pressures of Hollywood and celebrity get to her. She simply takes on her role in whatever film she’s playing and runs with it. Often times her performance takes you for a ride you weren’t prepared to take. It seems to me that each role she plays holds a little piece of her true personality and I love that about her. Plus, she’s got the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen.
    3. Nicole Kidman: Another brilliant actor who makes you forget previous roles she’s played, she’s that good. She has a reputation for being high maintenance and aloof, but I think “whatever, it works for her”. She’s stunningly beautiful. Your eyes can’t help but be drawn to her porcelain skin and fragile appearance. But don’t let that fool you. Her characters are not always weaklings. She is strong when she needs to be and vulnerable when the occasion calls for it. And talk about being a master of accents. The only person better would be Meryl Streep. And to me, that says something.
    4. Meryl Streep: How can one NOT love this woman’s films? Her body of work is so diverse you think one person could not possibly have played all these roles. But you would be thinking wrong. Because she’s done it ALL. And is unbelievably amazing EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. There are few words I can use to express the awesomeness that is Meryl Streep. I don’t think I need to really. She’s legend.
    5. Maggie Smith: Another legend who has every type of character imaginable on her resume. From her turn as Thetis in “Clash of the Titans” to Miss Bowers in “Death on the Nile” to Constance Trentham in “Gosford Park” to Mrs. Emily in Delahunty in “My House in Umbria” and of course as Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter series, she shows her acting versatility in such a way that you are held mesmerized by her skill. She has such an authoritarian look to her, but can show you such vulnerability you can’t help but cry. I would see her in anything.

  3. John says:

    Stephanie: Excellent list! I’ll match your picks. Even after all the other amazing things he’s been amazing in, my favorite Depp performance was in the first Pirates of the Caribbean. From the moment he stepped off the sinking ship onto the dock as if it were an entirely normal occurrence, I was in stitches every second he was on screen. Leaving Ed Norton off my list was painful, but I really thought he was amazing in The Incredible Hulk and I really hope he comes back for another one. And yes, Bale in The Prestige … whoa. Ewan was awesome in Moulin Rouge and his Obi-Wan — aside from Ray Park’s Darth Maul — was the only thing in the Star Wars prequels that felt alive to me. Fichtner rocks; he was scary-cool in Equilibrium. And Harrison Ford? Yeah. Angelina is awesome. I loved her in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Wynona was sublime in Reality Bites. For Scarlett, I can’t think of anything that beats what Bill Murray brought out of her in Lost in Translation. I love Ellen Page in anything. I loved how she looked so tiny in her uniform in X3 but still had huge power and even bigger bravery. Jennifer Connelly, I will never forget the first time I saw her in The Rocketeer and knew why that guy would do anything to get his girl back.

    Kerstin: This is one hell of a list! Tom Hanks, indeed. In Forrest Gump, when he finds out he has a son with Jenny and tries to ask her if the boy is smart, I turned into a blubbering mess. The man is amazing. Depp is peerless; I still have to go with Jack Sparrow. You perfectly described Viggo’s quiet intensity; when his King Aragorn tells the Hobbits that they bow to no man, there went the tears. Amazing. I’ll pick Test Pilot for Gable because I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. And have you seen Zahn in Rescue Dawn? Amazing work. And I loved him as Matthew McConaughey’s sidekick in Sahara. Cate is indeed otherworldly; we agree on her Hepburn! And all the others, too. I had a hard time not including Kate Winslet; she’s amazing as the flawed but still darling Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I also had a terrible time leaving Nicole Kidman off the list; I can’t wait for Australia and she’s very underrated in The Peacemaker. Meryl Streep is indeed amazing; she was the voice of Bill’s aunt on an episode of King of the Hill and it was hilarious. As for Maggie Smith, I will never forget her in Clash of the Titans and she’s so perfect in the Harry Potters. I also wish I’d had room for Dame Judi Dench.

  4. Bret says:

    here we go!….(sorry, I wrote this like a review)


    1. Steve McQueen. The King of Cool. Part of the old-school badasses of film, McQueen was today’s Bruce Willis, Christian Bale, or Jason Statham.- not the biggest guy in the room; but the one who will acomplish the job in the most entertaining and straight-up way. Performance- “The Great Escape”. McQueen’s portrayal of Captain Hilts leads the all-star cst that contains greats like James Garner and Charles Bronson. He has an confidence that borders on full-on cocky that gives a big “up yours” to his Nazi captors that perfectly sums up the American attitude that was portrayed in the war-epics of the day.
    2. Paul Newman. This is the guy that everyone roots for when they watch one of his movies. No matter the circumstance, you can’t beat him. He commands any situation. Especially in “Cool Hand Luke”. Even though Newman is in the worst of trouble you feel that his captors are doing time with him instead of the opposite.
    3. Morgan Freeman. There is really no explanation needed here. Want your movie to be good? (or if its aweful and want to have one good thing in it? *cough “Evan Almighty” *cough) Put Morgan Freeman in it. This guy’s acting chops puts 90% of Hollywood to shame. Example? See “The Shawshank Redemption”….nuff said.
    4. Edward Norton. The Lon Chaney of our time; but this guy doesn’t change his face. Norton’s characters have such a rich variety and depth that make it very easy to appreciate what this guy has to offer. He’s all about changes in his characters. For example, see “Primal Fear”. Then see “Fight Club”. Then see “American History X”. Then see “The Incredible Hulk”. But especially See “Fight Club”. His work opposite Brad Pitt as the un-named narrator is the stuff of greatness.
    5.Harrison Ford. Do you know a bad movie that Harrison Ford was in? Nope, I dont either. As a kid you wanted to grow up and be one of his characters- Han or Indy….come on…now THAT is a resume. Do yourself a favor. Watch the Fugitive then top it off with The Empire Strikes Back. Sooooo Goood.


    1.Jenna Fischer. Her characters are like that girl thats always there but yet so hard to catch. She does that so well….too well…she may be a robot…..I’ll investigate. In the meantime watch any episode of the Office.
    2. I am hopelessly in love with Jennifer Connolly. This woman to me captures the feeling that actresses of this old days did. She carries the loo too. Class, poise, and sophistication. Performance. “The Rocketeer” is anold Favorite of mine. She is perfect in her role as Jenny.
    3. Jessica Alba. Yeah I’m taking the “guy” route on this one but hey, she has an alluring smile and looks great in chaps…see “Sin City”. I’m sorry for the weak answer but I had to…..I’m so weak!
    4. Julia Stiles. While Franka Potente stole the show in the first two Bourne movies, it was Stiles who continued through the trilogy with a substantial amount of cleverness and smarts. The final scene with her in the cafe in “The Bourne Ultimatium” is great.
    5. Gilda Radner. Old SNL is the best. And Radner help make it that way. along with the likes of Martin, Belushi, Murray, Chase, and so on; the bar for comedy was set high. Her loveable, quirky characters will live on. Watching the old episodes you get the feeling that humor just came very naturally to her like it was something very common and “everyday”.

  5. Kerstin says:

    I did see Rescue Dawn. I was a bit disappointed in the movie overall, but Steve was superb. Completely outshined Christian Bale.

  6. John says:

    Ladies and Gentlemen, that’s my brilliant cousin Bret. I’m proud to share the same blood as this guy.

    Excellent list. Let me match your picks: For Steve McQueen, my favorite performance is Papillon even though my favorite movie is Bullitt. That’s why I liked Casino Royale so much, in fact, because Daniel Craig reminded me of McQueen. Paul Newman is indeed a titan. I’m with you on your excellently stated synopsis of his performance in Cool Hand Luke. Morgran Freeman in everything? Check. But Morgan Freeman in Shawshank? Double check. Norton goes without saying. And Harrison Ford? Yeah. As for actresses, I’m with you on Jenna Fischer. How her mantle isn’t overflowing with Emmy Awards for the work she does as Pam each week is beyond me. And Jennifer Connelly is just out of this world; we’re on the same page about The Rocketeer and I liked her very much in Blood Diamond, too. Alba was indeed a force of nature in Sin City. Julia Stiles has this beautiful kind of gravity and the Bourne movies really captured that. And what an inspired choice with Gilda Radner; she was indeed a natural talent and I’m very impressed that she’s on your very impressive list. It’s good to know that the greats will never be forgotten thanks to things like DVD. Excellent list, sir. Excellent.

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