I'm sitting here racking my brain because there's a laundry list of actors I truly enjoy seeing on the screen for various reasons, but it takes a little something more to reach that upper echelon. For the sake of this argument, I have them split into two catagories:
Actors I Like In Pretty Much Everything They Do, Though I Wouldn't Necessarily Consider Them Elite
Inside the first catagory, I have a whole mess of people; inside the latter I'm trying to whittle down to
Mark Wahlberg (Boogie Nights, The Departed, I Heart Huckabees, Renaissance Man, Shooter)
Johnny Depp (Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas, Ed Wood, Blow, What's Eating Gilbert Grape)
Edward Norton (American History X, Fight Club, Rounders, Death To Smoochie, Primal Fear)
Steve Buscemi (Reservoir Dogs, The Big Lebowski, Ghost World, Fargo, The Sopranos)
William H. Macy (Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Fargo, Down Periscope)
Philip Seymore Hoffman (Magnolia, Capote, Punch Drunk Love, Love Liza, Almost Famous)
Benicio Del Toro (Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas, Traffic, The Way Of The Gun, Snatch)
Kevin Spacey (The Ref, The Usual Suspects, American Beauty, Seven, Glengarry Glen Ross)
Robert De Niro (The Godfather Part II, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Heat)
Brad Pitt (Fight Club, Snatch, Seven, Twelve Monkeys, Interview With A Vampire)
Will Smith (Six Degrees of Separation, Bad Boys II, Independence Day, Ali, Men In Black)
Bill Murray (Rushmore, Groundhog Day, Where The Buffalo Roam, Ghostbusters, Scrooged, What About Bob, Kingpin, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou)
Holly Hunter (Home For The Holidays, Raising Arizona, Thirteen, The Piano)
Cate Blanchett (The Gift, Notes On A Scandal, I'm Not There, The Shipping News, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou)
Diane Keaton (Annie Hall, The Family Stone, Manhattan, The Godfather I, II, III)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Mysterious Skin, The Lookout, Angels In The Outfield, Third Rock From The Sun)
Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter, Pulp Fiction, Suicide Kings, The Dead Zone, Annie Hall)
Clint Eastwood (Dirty Harry, The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly, Million Dollar Baby, Unforgiven)
Kurt Russell (Tombstone, Soldier, Death Proof, Escape From New York, Captain Ron, Stargate)
Gene Hackman (The Royal Tenenbaums, Hoosiers, Superman, The Poseidon Adventure, Bonnie and Clyde)
Bruce Willis (Die Hard, The Last Boyscout, Twelve Monkeys, Pulp Fiction, Death Becomes Her)
Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs, Four Rooms, Pulp Fiction, Hoodlum)
Tommy Lee Jones (No Country For Old Men, The Fugitive, Natural Born Killers, The Client, JFK)
And now for my top
Jack Nicholson. It's hard to go wrong with a Jack movie because even the shitty ones are still elevated by his mere presence. But, he's been so consistently excellent from beginning to today that you can't leave him off your top.
Val Kilmer. Probably one that gets me the most heat, but watch him in The Doors and watch him play Doc Holliday in Tombstone. That cat can tear one off, it's just too bad he makes so many terrible movies to make him an afterthought in most critics' minds.
Denzel Washington. This is a guy whose movies come out with great anticipation, and not just because he's the greatest black actor of our generation. He's undoubtedly one of THE best actors of ALL time, period.
Marlon Brando. A seemingly obvious choice, but he really is among the best of the best. The way I figure it, the world's greatest actors HAVE to be at least a little crazy; and this guy had crazy in spades. The coolest thing about Marlon Brando? The guy hated acting more than anything else, he openly and blatantly acted for the money from the 70s onward.
Robert Downey Jr. I get a kick out of this guy and so does most everybody I know. He's just fucking good in EVERYTHING you throw him in, even though he mostly plays a sidekick or a background character.
Daniel Day-Lewis. There's a reason why this guy hardly does a movie anymore. He doesn't have to; he has nothing left to prove. More on him when I get around to writing my "There Will Be Blood" review. Here's a sneak preview: if he doesn't win the Oscar for Best Actor, I will be legitimately shocked.