Answering the Big, Stupid Question

With Oscar season thankfully past us, and the landscape of upcoming movies looks bleak, I think this dead-zone of pop culture is a good time to bring up the age-old question: who is the best actor alive?

By itself, that is a silly question, because the answer is Daniel Day-Lewis.

But that’s not really what I’m asking, or what anyone’s asking when that question comes up. The real question: if you were in charge of casting a movie with a dominant male lead, who would you put in that role?

Now if you answered that question immediately, you’re an idiot. Kidding. But I think that question demands another: what kind of movie is it? Below the jump, I assume Daniel Day-Lewis’ retirement and tackle which actors I would choose in a variety of different genres.

COMEDY: Jack Nicholson

I would hate to say that Nicholson has been reduced to a comedic actor, because to do so would be to shit on his performance in “The Departed” in 2006. But, Nicholson, who will turn 71 this month, seems to really cling to light-hearted roles these days. We all remember “As Good As It Gets”, and since then, IMDB lists four of his six movies as comedies. To combine Nicholson’s acting experience with his own light-hearted nature is to create one helluva comedy actor. Now picking Nicholson was the short way out, because it allowed me to avoid picking favorites in the Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, Wilson Brothers, Steve Carell and everyone else in the world contingent, but this is my piece.

ROMANCE: Ryan Gosling

I’m going out on a limb here, because it’s not as if Gosling has a ton of history in this category. Really, he has one: “The Notebook”. But listening to Gosling talk about “Lars and the Real Girl”, it certainly sounds like he approached that movie as a romance, too, and I think that’s poignant. You know what they say: if you can play lead with an inflatable chick as your female co-star, you can play anything. But Gosling really did make “The Notebook” tolerable, and he can act circles around guys like Matthew McConaghey and John Krasinski, actors that will make many a million off their abilities within this genre. However, I want a real movie even when my girlfriend drags me to one, so I pick Gosling. Plus, I feel more okay with reducing Gosling to this genre than a guy like Brad Pitt, who can do so many things.

ACTION: Matt Damon

I was never a big believer in Matt Damon, but the dude has proved recently that he has the chops within this genre. “The Bourne Ultimatum” was such a success, and if nothing else, we’re better for seeing Damon wave a gun around. We like him because he’s not Steven Seagal or Arnold Schwarzanegger; Damon is that short kid we knew in college that worked out a bit too much. He’s us. He also has had enough experience in vastly different roles to bring something to the character, which is important in an action. Anyone can run around and tell the media they barely used a stunt double — few can take scripts designed around special effects and create a character.

CRIME/GANGSTER: Al Pacino

I think there are three options here: Denzel Washington, Robert De Niro or Al Pacino. This is clearly Washington’s favorite category, between “The Siege” and “Training Day” and “Man on Fire” and “The Manchurian Candidate” and “Inside Man” and “American Gangster”. I mean, Jesus, this is really Denzel’s favorite category. De Niro, of course, has made a career on his ability to play a mob boss well. But Pacino is my personal favorite, and I chose him over De Niro because I liked his performance better in “Heat”. And since then, Pacino has starred in some underrated movies like “Donnie Brasco” and “Insomnia” and “The Recruit” that have showcased his chops in this genre. Lucky for us, Pacino and De Niro are teaming up as New York City detectives in 2008 in “Righteous Kill”, so we can decide then if I was right.

DRAMA: Leonardo DiCaprio

I make no secret to my tweenish fandom concerning DiCaprio — I still think that, for my money, he’s the best actor on the planet. It’s hard to argue with the results of his last five movies: “Blood Diamond”, “The Departed”, “The Aviator”, “Catch Me If You Can” and “Gangs of New York”. DiCaprio was splendid in each, and while Day-Lewis outshone him in the latter, DiCaprio was head and shoulders above Damon and Nicholson in “The Departed”. People pick on DiCaprio because of a history that includes “Romeo + Juliet” and “Titanic”, but even before that, he was making real movies like “The Basketball Diaries”. Fine, the guy can’t do a South African accent, I get it. DiCaprio is set to have another dynamite year in 2008 with Sam Mendes’ “Revolutionary Road” and Ridley Scott’s “Body of Lies”, which I hope yields his first Oscar and further cements his status in Hollywood’s highest echelon.

Of course, there are more genres and subgenres I could have touched on, and dozen of actors (Johnny Depp, for instance) that stand to deserve mention. But, in these genres, these are my actors.

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