Modern-Gen Movie Stars Mt. Rushmore

When judging greatness, one of the things I like to do is to make a “Mt. Rushmore” of things, allowing for the categorization of greatness, rather than having to deal with ranking. Of course, all of this is subjective and is really done to foster discussion.  Please feel free to participate in the conversation!

Being on baby watch, we’ve been keeping a low profile and catching up on movies.  Today we watched Flight (which was a good – but not entertaining – movie), which spurned the following dinnertime conversation between Bethany and I: is Denzel Washington one of the greatest actors of the last generation?  After coming to the conclusion that he was, we then attempted to figure out which actors would be included with Denzel as one of the greatest, resulting in the Mt. Rushmore of actors below.

Criteria and Overall Impressions

  • We took the last 20 years into account, so a resume quasi-1993 and after
  • With one exception, we took all actors over 60 out of consideration (eliminating Morgan Freeman, Jack Nicolson and anyone who starred in Godfather)
  • Actors are permitted to start in TV, but must be primarily considered movie starts today
  • While relevant, awards are not the primary criteria.  We’re basically looking at star power, using the following scenario: Seeing a preview with this actor would give you reason enough to see the movie
  • We’re looking at the overall body of work, so while they may no longer be at the peak of their popularity, they’re still relevant today and have been for all of their career or the greater part of 20 years – whichever is greater.
  • To make the initial list we couldn’t look at our phones, if you have to dig into stats for the actor, then they’re not worth being on the list
  • They’ve starred in movies that for better or worse, have remained culturally relevant

Taking this criteria into account, we set out with our goal of making two Mt. Rushmore’s, consisting of 4 actors and 4 actresses.  Both were difficult in their own way.  For the men, it was extremely difficult drawing the line between the first tier and second tier.  For the women, it exposed a significant problem with the movie industry: it’s extremely difficult for an actress to have a long career.  Part of it has to do with the fact that Hollywood doesn’t know how to write modern middle-aged women.  Looking back on the last 20 years, most hot commodity actresses had careers like Runningbacks: Untouchable for a period of 3-5 years, then just fizzled out and haven’t done anything memorable recently.  Names that have come to mind include Cameron Diaz, Halle Berry, Natalie Portman, and Rachel McAdams, with the jury still out on relative newcomers like Anne Hathaway and Jennifer Lawrence. 

For better or worse, cinema reflects society’s values and even though we’ve made great strides in gender equality, people are not going to accept a version of Flight with the pilot being played by a woman, or a female version of Walter White or Don Draper.  To make matters worse, there seems to be a shortage of great roles for women older than 30 – at least until you reach the age to play an adult’s mother or grandmother.  It’s really sad when you think of it. Thus, I had a really hard time coming up with a 4th Actress Rushmore spot, and made the controversial move of giving it away to the men, who I couldn’t whittle from 5 to 4. I know it doesn’t make sense, but please make a case for another actress.

So without further ado, here are my Mt. Rushmore’s of modern movie starts:


Meryl Streep


Even though we’re not doing rankings, if we were: Meryl would top the list of actresses and probably lap anyone else.  She may be just over 60, but she’s the one for which I made an exception.  Her resume from the last 20 years is just that impressive.  She was huge before 1993 and since then added another 8 Oscars, winning one of them last year for The Iron Lady.

Strongest Movies: The Iron Lady, Julie & Julia, The Devil Wears Prada, Mama Mia! (plus a ton of other movies)
Movies That Potentially Hurt Her Chances (setting back her career): None

Julia Roberts


It could be argued that Julia peaked with Pretty Woman, but since 1993 has remained culturally relevant for the better parts of two decades.  She may make most her money on “chick flicks”, but those are usually the movies you have on your bookshelf.

Strongest Movies: Eat Pray Love, Charlie Wilson’s War, Erin Brockovich, Ocean’s 11
Movies That Potentially Hurt Her Chances: Ocean’s 12, Valentine’s Day

Sandra Bullock


I personally can’t stand her, but she has managed to stay relevant for the better part of 20 years, topping it off with her Oscar from the Blind Side.  She probably got a lot of sympathy mileage from the way she thanked her (unbeknownst at the time) cheating husband during her Oscar speech.

Strongest Movies: Speed, The Net,  Miss Congeniality, Crash (at the time), The Blind Side
Movies That Potentially Hurt Her Chances: Crash (in retrospect), Speed 2: Cruise Control


Tom Hanks


Although Tom’s been in relative obscurity playing Robert Langdon, Tom Hanks got so much mileage from the first half of this generation that he still doesn’t have to buy a beer ever again.

Strongest Movies: Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, Toy Story, You’ve Got Mail, Charlie Wilson’s War, Saving Private Ryan, Road to Perdition, Cast Away, The Green Mile, Philadelphia
Movies That Potentially Hurt His Chances: The Da Vinci Code (but only because it’s controversial)

George Clooney


While Clooney spent the first part of this generation doing TV, he pretty much embodies the modern movie star. Out of anyone on this list, he’s probably the guy you could talk to over a beer (except for maybe Tom Hanks). When people dream about becoming cool movie stars, they think of George Clooney. Just get him on your top bill for your movie and it’ll be a hit.

Strongest Movies: Ocean’s 11, Up in the Air, Syriana, Good Night and Good Luck, Three Kings, The Descendants
Movies That Potentially Hurt His Chances: Ocean’s 12, Spy Kids, Batman & Robin

Johnny Depp


Depp may owe the revitalization of his career to Pirates, but he’s taken advantage of every opportunity, to the point that you’ll be in the theater to see whatever he’s making, even if it’s utter crap.

Strongest Movies: Pirates of the Caribbean, The Tourist, The Rum Diary, Sweeney Todd, Don Juan DeMarco
Movies That Potentially Hurt His Chances: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dark Shadows

Denzel Washington


Denzel can pretty much add credibility to any movie that you see.  Any time I see a trailer with him in it, my first thought is “Oh Denzel’s in it, so it has to be good”. Even if it’s not, you’ll usually end up saying that at least his performance was good.

Strongest Movies: American Gangster, Inside Man, Man on Fire, Training Day, Remember The Titans, The Hurricane, The Bone Collector, Courage Under Fire, Philadelphia, Crimson Tide
Movies That Potentially Hurt His Chances: The Book of Eli

Leonardo DiCaprio


When I was in high school, I hated Leonardo DiCaprio for subjecting all of us to Titanic, but dude was smart.  Making that date movie pretty much insured that he could star in any picture he wanted – and took that its fullest advantage, rattling off a resume that looks like a Greatest Hits album.

Strongest Movies: Django Unchained, Inception, Shutter Island, Blood Diamond, The Departed, The Aviator, Catch Me If You Can, Gangs of New York, The Beach, Titanic, Romeo + Juliet
Movies That Potentially Hurt His Chances: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (which made him a punch-line for Titanic-haters), The Man in the Iron Mask


So yes, my Mt. Rushmore stole an actress spot and gave it to an actor, but let me ask you this: which one of these five would you take off the list?  As far as actresses: who would you add? Would you have a different list all together? Let me know who would be on your Mt. Rushmore!

The Superman we finally deserve

They cracked the code, my friends. They finally have made a Superman movie that pays homage to the most classic of super heroes.  They finally made Superman right, making him a compelling character through an entertaining movie.

As a comics fan, Superman is a tough book to read (and I can only imagine writing him must be just as difficult).  Here you have a character from another time.  Many things don’t hold up well after 75 years, and at times Superman is hard.  Despite multiple reboots, modernizing of origins, various weaknesses introduced: most writers aren’t able to make Supes a compelling character in the 21st century.

I was too young to watch the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, so my first cinematic exposure to the Man of Steel was in Superman Returns in 2006: an awkward movie that seemed like it was paying homage to those 80’s movies rather than defining the next chapter. A reboot was all but necessary.

This movie accomplished what it needed to: make this invulnerable Boy Scout of a super hero relatable to use us mere mortals. They went ahead and leaned on two excellent angles: seeking purpose in your life, as most of us at one point or another have figuratively wandered around asking “why am I here?”. The second angle was the “father and son” angle, the sacrifices made by both his biological and adoptive father. A line that tugged at my heartstrings when Kevin Costner told young Clark Kent “You are my son”. I wasn’t adopted, but I can imagine the empathy that could have been felt during that conversation.

I realize that people were bothered by the gratuitous level of destruction, but given that you’re dealing with someone who is extremely powerful and invulnerable, the stakes of danger need to be pretty high. Even though I’m not a fan of destruction for destruction’s stake, I’ll give the writers a pass on this.

Overall, this movie has won over the casual comics fan, and perhaps even the casual fan into the DC movie universe, accomplishing something that Green Lantern wasn’t able to do. I do however remain skeptical that an Avengers-like Justice League movie will be able to happen. Even though it sort-of works in the comics, I don’t see Superman and Batman being able to exist in the same cinematic universe. Batman is my favorite super hero, but I don’t see him being able to stand up to this version of General Zod. I realize that a different version of Batman is going to exist in this Justice League version, but it’s going to have to be a pretty stark departure from Christopher Nolan’s interpretation.

A few other random thoughts:

  • Amy Adams was a great Lois Lane. Lois Lane is one of those characters that has a tough time holding up: from damsel in the wrong place at the wrong time, but rather someone who is capable who can help Superman out as well
  • I loved the depiction of the origin story, the jumping around during Clark’s first thirty years and giving relevant glimpses, rather than the standard chronological format that’s been done so many times before
  • I hate to sound insensitive, but I guess we’re officially far away from 9/11 that aircraft flying buildings (or buildings just collapsing) is now acceptable. It’s not just this movie, it happened in Star Trek as well. I’m not sure what the Man of Steel folks were thinking, but seeing Lawrence Fishburne running away from a collapsing was pretty chilling.

What did you think of the movie? Would you want to see a sequel? Are you bought into the DC Universe?

MPAA: Those Evil Movie Pirates

Watch this, and feel your blood boil.  Watch as 60 Minutes, a supposed beacon of broadcast journalistic integrity, is spoon-fed propaganda from the MPAA, and eats it right up.

Let me make one thing clear: I don’t support movie piracy. At the same time, I can’t sit here and let the MPAA spread misinformation and scare tactics, painting everyone with a broad brush of evil.

I love how Leslie Stahl eats up all of the information – my favorite part is the look of disgust at 2:50 when she repeats “In the diaper bag” – without offering any kind of challenge or exploration in the truth of their claims.  Instead, she just lets them go on and equate people who film movies in theaters to drug cartels, human traffickers and child prostitution.

I understand that there is a valid point in damage being done the counterfeit DVD circles, but 60 MInutes let the MPAA completely blur the line between them and the kids who download bit-torrented movies on the Internet.  Furthermore, Stahl allows the MPAA to tarnish the US citizens with their broad brush, yet conveniently forgetting about the rampant piracy that is going on in Asia – specifically China – where they’re making money hand-over-fist from piracy.  It makes sense that DVD counterfeits may cost them money, but where’s the direct linkage with bit-torrent? Still, the MPAA goes for their low-hanging fruit – the “gee-whiz computer technology”.

In the piece the MPAA allege that their industry is robbed of $6 billion annually by piracy – yet they base this on the false pretense that everyone that downloaded their movie had the original intention of seeing it in the theater, or purchasing the $25 DVD.  That’s simply not true. According to the MPAA, the people downloading these movies must be doing it because they’re evil jerks who want to rob the “little people” of the movie industry blind.  There can’t possibly be another side to this: the fact that people want to consume this media in different ways – that some people actually don’t want to go sit in a crowded theater with the talking and crying babies and $5 soda.  In the piece they showed people being wanded and searched, as well as forced to turn in their cell phones, just so they can see a movie.  Wow, when you treat your customers like criminals and give them cavity searches, who wouldn’t want to go to a theater?  No way in hell am I going to give you my money, just so I can be treated like that.

It’s one thing if you’re providing a good alternative – like a same day digital release that I can watch in the comfort of my home theater with a cold beer in my hand – but the fact is that you’re blatantly ignoring the changing market conditions and instead just whine about the Internet.  Where was Mark Cuban to talk about his same-day release and digital distribution ideas?  60 Minutes had no interest in providing any other views in this complex issue.  Apparently movie downloading equates to drowning puppies: no one can have a differing view.

I love how they parade out Steven Soderbergh to say that he wishes the Internet was never invented.  I’m sure you do Steven, because now people can warn other movie-goers about some of the crap that people call “movies” and expect people to shell out $8-12 to go see.  Surely the fact studios green-light these sure-fire bombs (soon-to-be Avatar, anyone?) can’t be the reason no one sees these movies. no it’s all based on piracy.

Soderbergh says they’re losing money at an alarming rates, yet I think someone forgot to tell him that 2007 was a record-breaking year when it came to movie theater revenue.  If I’m not mistaken, 2008 was an even better year for them.  Apparently he still thinks they’re not being paid.  Someone should tell him that the revenue you bring in, over the cost/budget for the picture (which I believe includes the salaries for “the little guys”) = profit for the studios.

Again, I’m not advocating piracy or making excuses for those who download movies – however is it too much to ask 60 Minutes to at least do some research before they parrot the MPAA’s talking points?