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The Oscar Quest Reconsidered: Ranking the Best Actors

I originally posted a version of this list in early 2012. Mostly because I like making lists. There was no real methodology to it. I looked back at it at some point in the past four months and saw it skewed heavily toward personal preference. The performances I liked the best went to the top, and the performances I thought were terrible winners went straight to the bottom.

Since the Oscar Quest, Version 2 that I’ve been doing, I noticed the point of it was more to reflect what my thoughts were now five years later from the completion/posting of all the original articles. I tried to stay away from redoing everything I did the first time, because a lot of it felt like it begat negativity on my part. I really don’t want to shit on things now so much as I’d want to openly discuss what is or isn’t a good choice historically.

Because that’s now where I’m at, I think redoing these lists is something I can get away with. If only to give myself a marker for where my head is at now.

I’m not putting any stock into these whatsoever. I don’t even really want to make these easily findable for people, though I guess I should, if only to track changes over the years. I was going to write up actual opinions for each one, justifying its position, but that’s a fool’s errand. That’s for people looking for extra clicks and people writing in the comments. I don’t want that. This is purely for me.

The first time I wrote this up, I specified that the rankings were not me attempting to make a list for everyone to follow. It was just my favorites. This time, I think what I ended up doing was trying to factor in everything into the decision. How iconic the performance/film is, how good of a choice it was in its year (extremely strong choices get slight bumps, and extremely weak choices get slight deductions), and also how I feel about them.

So here’s where my head is at now on all the Best Actor winners:

1. Marlon Brando, On the Waterfront

2. Gregory Peck, To Kill a Mockingbird

3. Marlon Brando, The Godfather

4. Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood

5. Robert De Niro, Raging Bull

6. Fredric March, The Best Years of Our Lives

7. Alec Guinness, The Bridge on the River Kwai

8. Paul Scofield, A Man for All Seasons

9. Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

10. George C. Scott, Patton

11. Daniel Day-Lewis, My Left Foot

12. Sean Penn, Milk

13. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote

14. Peter Finch, Network

15. Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

16. Adrien Brody, The Pianist

17. Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs

18. Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump

19. F. Murray Abraham, Amadeus

20. Ben Kingsley, Gandhi

21. Jamie Fox, Ray

22. Dustin Hoffman, Kramer vs. Kramer

23. Burt Lancaster, Elmer Gantry

24. Maximilian Schell, Judgment at Nuremberg

25. James Cagney, Yankee Doodle Dandy

26. Jon Voight, Coming Home

27. Broderick Crawford, All the King’s Men

28. Ray Milland, The Lost Weekend

29. Gary Cooper, High Noon

30. Victor McLaglen, The Informer

31. Jack Nicholson, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

32. Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

33. William Hurt, The Kiss of the Spider Woman

34. Ernest Borgnine, Marty

35. Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man

36. William Holden, Stalag 17

37. Laurence Olivier, Hamlet

38. Charlton Heston, Ben-Hur

39. Nicholas Cage, Leaving Las Vegas

40. Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

41. Matthew McConughey, Dallas Buyers Club

42. Gene Hackman, The French Connection

43. Kevin Spacey, American Beauty

44. Yul Brynner, The King and I

45. Geoffrey Rush, Shine

46. Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

47. Rod Steiger, In the Heat of the Night

48. Tom Hanks, Philadelphia

49. Robert Donat, Goodbye, Mr. Chips

50. Humphrey Bogart, The African Queen

51. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

52. Michael Douglas, Wall Street

53. Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

54. Denzel Washington, Training Day

55. Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman

56. Jack Nicholson, As Good as It Gets

57. Robert Duvall, Tender Mercies

58. Jeremy Irons, Reversal of Fortune

59. Jack Lemmon, Save the Tiger

60. Roberto Benigni, Life Is Beautiful

61. Spencer Tracy, Captains Courageous

62. Rex Harrison, My Fair Lady

63. Russell Crowe, Gladiator

64. Wallace Beery, The Champ

65. Bing Crosby, Going My Way

66. Clark Gable, It Happened One Night

67. Jean Dujardin, The Artist

68. Henry Fonda, On Golden Pond

69. Jose Ferrer, Cyrano de Bergerac

70. Cliff Robertson, Charley

71. Richard Dreyfuss, The Goodbye Girl

72. David Niven, Separate Tables

73. Paul Lukas, Watch on the Rhine

74. Gary Cooper, Sergeant York

75. Paul Newman, The Color of Money

76. Emil Jannings, The Last Command & The Way of All Flesh

77. James Stewart, The Philadelphia Story

78. Art Carney, Harry and Tonto

79. Sidney Poitier, Lilies of the Field

80. John Wayne, True Grit

81. Lee Marvin, Cat Ballou

82. Ronald Colman, A Double Life

83. Sean Penn, Mystic River

84. Paul Muni, The Story of Louis Pasteur

85. Charles Laughton, The Private Life of Henry VIII

86. Fredric March, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

87. Warner Baxter, In Old Arizona

88. Lionel Barrymore, A Free Soul

89. George Arliss, Disraeli

90. Spencer Tracy, Boys Town

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