So, because you all enjoyed that list so much, and because I apparently have a death wish, it’s time for another: The Top 10 Most Overrated Actors/Actresses of All Time.
Unlike last time, I will claim that these are objective facts, not subjective opinions, so that all my critics may have full liberty to attack me (To those same critics who claimed last time that I phrased my opinions in an “objective” manner, this is called being facetious. That means I’m kidding. Also, seriously? That was your criticism?).
Here are my criteria: are they considered great actors/actresses? If not, they can’t make the list (sorry, Rob Schneider). Are they actually great actors? If so, they can’t make the list (sorry, Laurence Olivier). Only those who are considered great actors but are not, in fact, great actors can make this list. Even then, I’m not claiming that these are bad actors unless I explicitly say that I am.
So, here we go. In the words of Han Solo, I’ve got a bad feeling about this …
10. George Clooney: Not a great actor. Not a good actor. Not really an actor. If you’ve ever seen a movie with Clooney where you didn’t say to yourself, “Hey, I’m watching George Clooney” every thirty seconds or so, you haven’t seen a George Clooney movie. You’re mixing him up with Kate Winslet. He’s a D actor. Dull in “Michael Clayton.” Dreary in “Up In The Air.” Dreadful in “Syriana.” Dismal in “Batman and Robin.” He’s not a low-rent Cary Grant. He’s an affordable-housing Robert Wagner.
9. Dustin Hoffman: He turned in some tremendous performances in his early days (most notably “Papillon,” “Kramer vs. Kramer,” and “Tootsie”), then became a caricature of himself. He has not done anything worthwhile since “Tootsie,” in fact. Even in his better performances, he is a bit too mannered for my taste, perhaps an effect of his method acting. Laurence Olivier thought the same thing. When they were working on “Marathon Man” together, Hoffman showed up on set after having not slept for several days in order to get “in character.” Olivier took one look at him and said, “Dear boy, it’s called acting.”
8. Spencer Tracy: He’s immensely likable on screen, but he’s not a great actor by any stretch of the imagination. Light comedy is his forte (watch the original “Father of the Bride” or “Adam’s Rib”), but he’s too stolid in heavy drama like “Bad Day at Black Rock.” He’s always Spencer Tracy, no matter what he’s in. That’s more a characteristic of older actors who were movie stars rather than actors (see John Wayne, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, etc.), but those actors are rarely listed among the best of all time. Tracy routinely is.
7. Katharine Hepburn: Overwrought, overhyped, and overblown. Hepburn is the same in virtually all of her films, save “The Rainmaker,” “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” and “On Golden Pond.” She tends to chew the scenery, and she never inhabits a part; she insists that the part inhabits her. Her films with Tracy are just as formulaic as Hope and Crosby (and no one ever called Hope and Crosby great actors). Many critics loved her because she wasn’t afraid to lose her femininity at the door, but that made her a hard actress to love onscreen.
6. Gregory Peck: Atticus Finch is supposed to have a Southern accent. Joseph Mengele is supposed to have a German accent. And characters are supposed to be different from each other. Philip Green in “Gentleman’s Agreement” is not supposed to be the same character as Joe Bradley in “Roman Holiday” or Captain Ahab in “Moby Dick.” Peck could not play pathos, could not play vulnerability, and could not play real anger. Like Tracy, the best word to describe him would be stolid.
5. Leonardo DiCaprio: He shows flashes of brilliance, then subsumes them in gigantic waves of mannerisms. When he burst onto the scene with “Titanic,” I thought he was going to be one of the great ones – for someone that age to turn in a performance that good in a movie that bad is worth noting. But watch him in “Gangs of New York,” and you find yourself laughing out loud at the notion that this whiny nobody is supposed to be the tough guy. Watch him in “The Man in the Iron Mask,” and he can’t even decide whether to pronounce Athos as “Aaathos” or “Aye-thos.” Watch him in “The Departed” – well, don’t bother to watch him in “The Departed.” Somebody has been whispering in his ear that great acting is about being showy. It isn’t. It’s about being subtle. We can only hope he heeds that warning before he ends up like Dustin Hoffman.
4. Bill Murray: Great in comedy (see “Tootsie” and “Groundhog Day”), laughably awful in everything else. He turned in what may be the single worst performance in the history of film in the remake of “The Razor’s Edge.” It is a wonder that the director of that film did not somehow mix up Murray and a block of wood during the shoot. It is unthinkable that he was nominated for an Academy Award for the most boring movie of all time, “Lost In Translation;” sitting around mumbling does not make for great acting. Here’s the thing about emotion on film; we should actually see it. I understand the idea of allowing things to simmer beneath the surface. But that doesn’t mean your performance style should invariably mirror a Tiki mask.
3. Tom Hanks: Bill Murray with a touch more emotion, Robin Williams with a touch less. Light comedy is fine (“Big”), everything else borders on the maudlin. “Castaway” is unintentionally hilarious (rent it and do bits on it), he’s a hole in the screen in “Saving Private Ryan,” and his performance in “Forrest Gump” is one-note. He’s not a bad actor, but he’s certainly not a great one. He is a great producer, though – for “Band of Brothers” alone, he should be enshrined among the best.
2. Meryl Streep: Undoubtedly I will be hung by my toenails for this pick. She is a marvel technically, but she’s always cold. I can’t think of a single film in which she has reached me emotionally. I always get the feeling while watching her movies that I’m watching a documentary about acting for a master class; I never get the feeling that her characters are real. On this one, I agree with Katharine Hepburn, who couldn’t stand Streep’s acting: “Click, click, click,” she once said, talking about the gears you can see turning inside Streep’s head.
1. Jack Nicholson: He sucks in everything. It’s that simple. Anyone who considers him a great actor ought to get his/her head examined. I understand that he’s a hero to the ’60s generation because he did drugs and got murdered for psychedelic “freedom” in “Easy Rider.” That doesn’t excuse him for cursing film with his presence for the next forty years. He has no versatility whatsoever. He is always a cynical/menacing fellow with “reserves of depth” (unless he has no “reserves of depth”). He is the worst case of miscasting in movie history in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (McMurphy is supposed to be a huge red-headed Irishman, not a 5’10” counterculture weasel), a glaring problem in a film that is otherwise impeccably cast (Brad Dourif as Billy is one of the great overlooked performances in the annals of film). Nicholson over Peter Fonda in “1997” is a cosmic injustice. He is boring, predictable, and what’s more, he’s pretentious and annoying. 12 Oscar nominations for this hack testifies to the idiocy of the Baby Boomer generation that made him famous.