[IMG:L]It's awards season, a time when actors and actresses are celebrated ad nauseam -- and we've got one more set of accolades to help massage their egos: best of the decade. Countless 'next big thing'/'on the cusp' actors and actresses have come and gone over the past 10 years (some have even passed away), but a very exclusive group has remained a constant bright spot, delivering near perfection during the 2000s, and in some cases becoming adjectives! Here are our picks for the best of the decade.
During the first half of the decade, he thrived in supporting roles (Almost Famous, Punch-Drunk Love, Red Dragon, 25th Hour, Cold Mountain, TV’s Empire Falls) -- but since Hoffman's Oscar-winning performance in Capote, he has been on a Hanks-esque roll, turning almost every character into a surefire Oscar nominee or contender. Hoffman was recognized by the Academy for 2008’s Doubt and Charlie Wilson's War the previous year, but he easily could’ve been nominated for The Savages and his exhilarating/exasperating turn in Synecdoche, New York (if the movie itself wasn’t such a mess). And even middle-of-the-road fare like Mission: Impossible III and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead was significantly elevated by Hoffman's mere association, let alone performance. One helluva decade for Seymour Philip Hoffman, as Alan Arkin called him at the most recent Oscars ceremony.
His outburst on the set of Terminator Salvation -- and the movie itself -- doesn’t come close to overshadowing an almost unbelievable decade. It all started with a role that is nearly as iconic -- albeit to a slightly smaller audience -- as the Caped Crusader: Patrick Bateman, in 2000’s American Psycho. Since then, Bale has pretty much done it all, including but not limited to: the underrated Laurel Canyon; The Machinist (for which he lost over 60 pounds!); Terrence Malick’s The New World; Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn (for which he should’ve been at least Globe-nominated); taking a back seat to -- yet often outshining -- Russell Crowe in 3:10 to Yuma; I'm Not There; portraying Melvin Purvis in Public Enemies; and, oh yeah, that aforementioned superhero, the most coveted role this side of Spider-Man.
3. Kate Winslet
This Oscar magnet can simply do no wrong, and that’s been the story throughout her career -- not just the decade. But on the subject of the 2000s, she only only got better with each passing year, naturally culminating with a pair of aces in 2008 (no releases in '09). Winslet’s performances in Revolutionary Road and The Reader were outstanding enough for Oscar wins in the Supporting and Lead Actress categories (even though she was inexplicably snubbed for Supporting Actress), and her dual masterpieces in a single year ... well, that was a positively Streepian feat. And that’s just 2008!
2. Johnny DeppWhen you think of Depp during the 2000s, Jack Sparrow is the character that comes to mind -- and why not? Depp played him three times in one of the biggest franchises ever. And we're not going to kid ourselves and say the three Pirates of the Caribbean more were great -- but Depp truly was, and that Captain Jack is primarily the product of his imagination is impressive. Then you scan the rest of his filmography from the past 10 years: George Jung. J.M. Barrie. Willy Wonka. Sweeney Todd. John Dillinger. And then you realize some movies -- like Before Night Falls, Chocolat, From Hell, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Corpse Bride -- didn’t contain iconic characters but were none-too-shabby all the same. But what it really boils down to is: Has anybody done it cooler?
1. Meryl StreepTo say that she’s one of the best of a mere decade is an insulting reduction. Streep is the best actress of her generation -- and that was a fair assessment even before her complete and utter takeover of the past few years, during which she has rewritten the rules on demographics (women see movies too!) and the shelf life of actors (there can be stardom after 40!). The 60-year-old has, in the latter part of the 2000s, churned out one critical/box office darling after another, a cinematic dichotomy to which only a few other actors can lay claim. Running through her list of successes could take hours (no pun intended), so for brevity’s sake, let’s summarize her career with numbers: 15 Oscar nominations (the most ever) -- not including the one she’ll absolutely receive in February -- and 25 Golden Globe nominations (the most ever. And two Emmy wins, because why not?
George Clooney: Don’t hate him because he’s basically People magazine’s Sexiest Man Ever. Clooney can act as well as any of his contemporaries, and he’s not afraid to look unpretty in the process (Syriana, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Burn After Reading). And Clooney has perfected the “one for them, one for me” system unlike anyone this decade. Plus, he can write. And direct. OK, hate him.
Heath Ledger: As macabre as it may sound, it bears mentioning that Ledger does not get “death points”; his incredible decade stands on its own, independent of his tragic passing in 2008. The fact is, he gave us two performances over the past 10 years that were unequivocal instant classics: Ennis (Brokeback Mountain) and the Joker (The Dark Knight). Click here to see more of his career highlights.
Cate Blanchett: She’s almost interchangeable with that other Kate, and she boasts an equally impressive decade. For a while, Blanchett was the (Oscar) gold standard as far female thesps go, and no actress not named Streep transforms the way she does (see The Aviator and I'm Not There … again). Her great performances in the Lord of the Rings trilogy are almost an afterthought at this point, thanks to the still-blossoming career they begat.
Naomi Watts: She’s a star because of her megahits this decade, the Ring movies and King Kong, but the prolific Watts’ best work has come in much smaller films: Mulholland Drive, 21 Grams, We Don't Live Here Anymore, I Heart Huckabees, The Painted Veil, Eastern Promises, and Funny Games.
Laura Linney/Catherine Keener (Tie): They’ve both done steady, brilliant and underappreciated work throughout the ‘00s, and although their roles/genres have been different, these two ladies’ careers have been on the same exact trajectory: perpetually upward (even if they somehow never reach the leading-lady status they so deserve). In other words, how can you choose just one?