The Ten Best Actors of All Time Relay

So what’s the idea behind the relay? I’ve created a list of what I think are the best actors. At the end I, just like in a real relay race, hand over the baton to another blogger who will write his own post. The blogger will have to remove one actor (that is an obligation) and add his own choice and describe why he/she did this. At the end the blogger chooses another blogger to do the same. The idea is to make this a long race, so that each blogger gets a chance to remove and add an actor. We will end up with a list (not ranked in order) which represents a common agreement of the best actors.     -Nostra

We at FilmNerds were honored to be passed the baton on this really clever project started by My Film Views in which bloggers from around the movie geek blogosphere attempt to hone down a list of the ten greatest actors of all time. After making his alterations to the list, Cory Hamman from Life Between Frames chose FilmNerds as the next trustee of this great project and now it’s our turn to remove and replace one actor.

But first, here’s a full recounting of the project up to now:

My Film Views (created the original list: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Daniel Day-Lewis, Samuel L. Jackson, Charlie Chaplin, Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall)
The Focused Filmographer (Removed Hopkins, added Christian Bale)
Front Room Cinema (Removed Pacino, added Paul Giammati)
I Love That Film (Removed Jackson, added Edward Norton)

Flixchatter (Removed Giammati, added Gregory Peck)

All Eyes on Screen (Removed Norton, added Tom Hanks)
Time Well Spent (Removed Hoffman, added Leonardo DiCaprio)
The Warning Sign (Removed Hanks, added Paul Newman)
Movies and Songs 365 (Removed Duvall, re-added Anthony Hopkins)
And So It Begins (Removed DiCaprio, added Max von Sydow)
Cinematic Corner (Removed Bale, added Ralph Fiennes)
The Film Emporium (Re-removed Hopkins, added Jack Nicholson)
Duke & the Movies (Removed Oldman, added Humphrey Bogart)
Southern Vision (Removed Fiennes, added Harry Dean Stanton)
Defiant Success (Removed Stanton, added Jack Lemmon)
Cinematic Paradox (Removed von Sydow, re-added Ralph Fiennes)
Encore’s World of TV & Film (Removed Peck, added Richard Burton)
Okinawa Assault (Removed Lemmon, added Bruce Greenwood)
Amiresque (Removed Greenwood, added Peter Sellers)
Flickers (Removed Chaplin, added Jeff Bridges)
Aziza’s Picks (Removed Sellers, re-added Gary Oldman)
…let’s be splendid about this… (Removed Burton, added James Stewart)
Being Norma Jeane (Removed Bridges, added Johnny Depp)
U, Me, and Films (Re-removed Fiennes, re-added Tom Hanks)
Eternity of Dream (Re-removed Hanks, re-added Leonardo DiCaprio)
Lime Reviews and Strawberry Confessions (Re-removed Oldman, added Amitabh Bachchan)
Surrender to the Void (Removed Bachchan, added Gene Hackman)
Taste of Cinema (Removed Depp, added Marcello Mastroianni)
1001 Plus (Removed Brando, added Cary Grant)
Public Transportation Snob (Removed DiCaprio, re-added Charlie Chaplin)
1:37 Exactly (Removed Peter O’Toole and added Kevin Spacey)

Melissa’s Imaginarium (Removed Marcello Mastroianni and added John Cazale

FilmMattic (Removed Kevin Spacy and added Montgomery Clift)

Let’s Get Out of Here! (Removed Daniel Day-Lewis and added Michael Caine)

The list as it was when the baton was passed on to us –

Humphrey Bogart

Robert DeNiro

Paul Newman

Jack Nicholson

James Stewart

Cary Grant

Charlie Chaplin

Montgomery Clift

Michael Caine

Robert Shaw

And here it arrives on the doorstep of FilmNerds.com.

We have chosen to remove Montgomery Clift.

Clift is an iconic figure to be sure, representative of the “movie star” ideal in the 1950s and his track record at the Academy Awards is nothing to make light of (three Best Actor nominations, one for Best Supporting Actor). The questions arise when we compare Clift’s performances with the full scope of American cinematic acting and while he was certainly considered one of the best of his era, his performances simply don’t ring as powerful today when compared to some of the other names on this list.

If we’re going to judge Clift by the standard of making an impact on audiences in later years, “holding up to the test of time” if you will, then our choice for his replacement should meet those same standards. To replace Clift, we’ve chosen an actor who was likely less respected in his own time than Clift was, but whose bold, revolutionary performances appear more and more brilliant and ahead of their time with each passing year.

 

The actor we’ve chosen to acknowledge and add to the list is Peter Sellers.

As I research this project, I notice that Sellers has already made an appearance on the list (added by Amiresque) and was removed just two rotations later (by Aziza’s Picks). Aziza admits he removed Sellers for the simple reason of having not seen enough of his work (something he is, rightfully, embarrassed about).

While Sellers’ biggest impact has come in the world of comedy acting, his great performances were rarely purely comic in nature. The role most audiences are most likely to have seen him in are the Pink Panther films in which his wonderfully silly Inspector Clouseau served as the inspiration for nearly every wacky foreign character created since in American or English cinema and television. But it’s Sellers’ work with the great Stanley Kubrick that distinguishes him as one of the most brilliant, chameleonic actors in cinematic history.

Every moment Sellers appears on screen in 1962’s Lolita, the film is transformed from being a brooding, tense melodrama into an almost anachronistic dark comedy. In the role of charlatan author Clare Quilty, a character Sellers himself described as “a fantastic nightmare, part homosexual, part drug addict, part sadist”, Sellers seems to be running in multiple different directions simultaneously, creating a character so unpredictable we can’t help but laugh.

Sellers and Kubrick later collaborated on what I would call the greatest multi-role performance in movie history in Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. In a film that took the dark comedy elements of Lolita and magnified them times a thousand, Sellers played three distinct characters that not only displayed opposing ends of the acting spectrum, they also played off one another to make each stand out in the film. The bizarreness of Dr. Strangelove stands out against the dorky subtleness of President Muffley, which is equally set off by the quiet dignity of Captain Mandrake. Any one of these performances would qualify as among the most memorable of its era and Sellers pulls all three off in the same film and manages to make them compliment each other rather attempt to outdo himself at every turn.

More than a decade later, Sellers’ performance in Hal Ashby’s Being There as Chance the gardener, whose childlike mind is mistaken for quiet brilliance by the characters around him, shows a similar acting dexterity as he is essentially playing two characters simultaneously. Every line must be delivered in a way that is believable to both the audience (who knows that he is mentally deficient) and to the other characters, who believe he is a genius that speaks in parables. In many ways, Sellers’ performance in Being There had the highest degree of difficulty of any role in his career, a bar which perhaps only Sellers was capable of clearing.

Sellers may not cut the same iconic profile that some of the other names on this list do but there’s no question that when it comes to creating memorable, unique and pitch-perfect characters, Sellers changed the game.

 

So, the list is now: Humphrey Bogart, Robert DeNiro, Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson, James Stewart, Cary Grant, Charlie Chaplin, Michael Caine, Robert Shaw, and Peter Sellers.
And our part in the race is done, it’s time for the next runner to take over. Finding the next runner was the hardest part of this, but in the end we’ve chosen to pass the baton to our good friends at Aspect Radio. Godspeed, boys.