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Mark Wahlberg: Great actor or greatest actor?

Contraband

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The week before he opens “Contraband” — a film that, based on empirical marketing evidence, is about a man who straps money to his torso so he can fight a goofy voiced crime boss — might not be the best time to extoll the acting chops of one Mark Wahlberg, but that’s exactly what The New York Times‘ Adam Sternbergh has done in a provocative blog post entitled “Is Mark Wahlberg the Greatest Actor of His Generation?” Sternbergh’s evidence:

“I took to Twitter to see if anyone could guess what exactly his Oscar nominations were for, and several of the subsequent guesses — an acting nod for ‘Boogie Nights,’ perhaps? Or for ‘Three Kings?’ Or ‘The Fighter?’ — were incorrect yet totally plausible. Then a pair of astute film critics, Dana Stevens of Slate and Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe, weighed in and suggested Wahlberg’s best work may have been in David O. Russell’s ‘I Heart Huckabees,’ a movie that’s now perhaps best remembered for an incident on set. And the DealBook reporter Peter Lattman, among others, cast an additional vote for Wahlberg’s overlooked work in the 2000 film ‘The Yards.’ This means that, by my count, Mark Wahlberg could legitimately have received up to six Oscar nominations for acting, to go along with that one he did get for producing, for a grand total of seven actual and theoretical nominations.”

Sternbergh then goes on to compare Wahlberg’s resume to four other more respected actors of his generation: Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Paul Giamatti, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. In Sternbergh’s estimation, their actual and theoretical nomination totals (3, 3, 4, and 7) are all less than or equal to Wahlberg’s. Sternbergh could have also observed that Wahlberg has also worked with all four of of these men — in “The Departed,” “The Basketball Diaries,” “Planet of the Apes,” and “Boogie Nights” — another sign of his stature as a performer and as a mark of his good taste level, “Planet of the Apes” reboot notwithstanding.

Wahlberg has, in recent years, become a bit of a pop culture punchline — on a related topic, say hi to your mother for me — but I’ve always liked him as an actor. I was a bit too young, or at least a bit too out of touch with pop music in the early 1990s, to know him as Marky Mark. So my true introduction to Wahlberg came in “Boogie Nights” which bowed right when I was 17, the age when one’s passion for movies is at its most irrationally heated. After that, I needed little additional evidence of Wahlberg’s acting prowess. I don’t debate Sternbergh’s assessment of Wahlberg’s skills or of the nominations he deserves, and even though I’m not the biggest fan of “I Heart Huckabee’s” as a whole, it really might be Wahlberg’s best and funniest performance. At a notch below nominatable, Wahlberg is also very good in “The Other Guys” with Will Ferrell, and he’s even pretty sharp in “Date Night” too. Yes, I’ve seen “Date Night.” I’m married — what was I supposed to do?

It doesn’t seem fair to count Wahlberg’s producing nomination for “The Fighter,” but I probably wouldn’t include Hoffman’s performance in “The Savages” either, which brings the theoretical score back to 6-6. Even as a tie, it’s a striking comparison and an impressive showing for Wahlberg.

My question, though, is are those four guys the only other contenders for the title of Greatest Actor of Their Generation? I wasn’t so sure. I spent a little time on IMDb, looking for actors born within a ten year span of Wahlberg, five years before and five years after. That drummed up a few more names, but believe it or not, they all fell short of Wahlberg, too. Jamie Foxx won an Oscar for “Ray” and he was nominated for “Collateral” but after that and maybe — maybe — “Ali,” there’s a serious quality drop-off (although I think a case can be made for his hilarious supporting turn in last summer’s “Horrible Bosses”). Mark Ruffalo received a nomination two years ago for “The Kids Are All Right” but even with “Zodiac,” “You Can Count on Me,” and “Margaret,” he’s still not close. Ditto Guy Pearce; who’s inexplicably never been nominated for an Academy Award but deserves at least three noms in my book: “L.A. Confidential,” “Memento” and “The Proposition.” Wahlberg’s “The Fighter” co-star Christian Bale gets us closer — he won for “The Fighter” and he was great in “American Psycho,” “The Machinist,” “Rescue Dawn” and especially “The Prestige.” But that’s still five to Wahlberg’s six. Meaning Marky Mark and P-See-Hoff still stand unchallenged at the top of this arbitrary and admittedly meaningless pack.

Ah, but there is one actor who, in my opinion, gets to the six hypothetical nomination threshold. A man who is certainly less of a leading man than Wahlberg, but definitely a better villain. A man who’s such a crazy good — or maybe just plain crazy — actor he turned his own life into a performance.

That man, of course, is Joaquin Phoenix.

Phoenix has received two Oscar nominations, for “Walk the Line” and “Gladiator.” He was also great in a trio of films by director James Gray: “The Yards,” “We Own the Night” (both with Wahlberg, interestingly) and “Two Lovers.” And Phoenix was remarkable — and borderline certifiable — in “I’m Still Here,” the “documentary” about the lost year of his life when he got fat, drunk, and high, all for the sake of a tiny movie directed by his brother-in-law that almost no one saw. It was reckless, it was dumb, it unquestionably sabotaged the release of “Two Lovers” (which was a much better movie), but it was also about as good a performance as any actor has ever given. After all, it’s one thing to sell a role in a film. Phoenix sold a role in real life. That takes some serious skill.

The Gray films, “I’m Still Here” and his two actual Oscar nominations give Phoenix a theoretical total of six and put him in a tie with Wahlberg. Wahlberg has the additional nomination for producing “The Fighter,” and as the producer of “Entourage” and “Boardwalk Empire,” he’s obviously a much savvier (not to mention saner) Hollywood player and mogul than Phoenix. But as an actor? It might be too close to call.

What do YOU think? Is Mark Wahlberg the best actor of his generation? And if he isn’t, who is? Tell us in comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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Holiday Extra Special

Make The Holidays ’80s Again

Enjoy the holiday cheer Wednesday December 21 at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Whatever happened to the kind of crazy-yet-cozy holiday specials that blanketed the early winter airwaves of the 1980s? Unceremoniously killed by infectious ’90s jadedness? Slow fade out at the hands of early-onset millennial ennui? Whatever the reason, nixing the tradition was a huge mistake.

A huge mistake that we’re about to fix.

Announcing IFC’s Joe’s Pub Presents: A Holiday Special, starring Tony Hale. It’s a celeb-studded extravaganza in the glorious tradition of yesteryear featuring Bridget Everett, Jo Firestone, Nick Thune, Jen Kirkman, house band The Dap-Kings, and many more. And it’s at Joe’s Pub, everyone’s favorite home away from home in the Big Apple.

The yuletide cheer explodes Wednesday December 21 at 10P. But if you were born after 1989 and have no idea what void this spectacular special is going to fill, sample from this vintage selection of holiday hits:

Andy Williams and The NBC Kids Search For Santa

The quintessential holiday special. Get snuggly and turn off your brain. You won’t need it.

A Muppet Family Christmas

The Fraggles. The Muppets. The Sesame Street gang. Fate. The Jim Henson multiverse merges in this warm and fuzzy Holiday gathering.

Julie Andrews: The Sound Of Christmas

To this day a foolproof antidote to holiday cynicism. It’s cheesy, but a good cheese. In this case an Alpine Gruyère.

Star Wars Holiday Special

Okay, busted. This one was released in 1978. Still totally ’80s though. And yes that’s Bea Arthur.

Pee Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special

Pass the eggnog, and make sure it’s loaded. This special is everything you’d expect it to be and much, much more.

Joe’s Pub Presents: A Holiday Special premieres Wednesday December 21 at 10P on IFC.

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It Ain't Over Yet

A Guide to Coping with the End of Comedy Bang! Bang!

Watch the final episodes tonight at 11 and 11:30P on IFC.

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After five seasons and 110 halved-hour episodes, Scott Aukerman’s hipster comedy opus, Comedy Bang! Bang!, has come to an end. Fridays at 11 and 11:30P will never be the same. We know it can be hard for fans to adjust after the series finale of their favorite TV show. That’s why we’ve prepared this step-by-step guide to managing your grief.

Step One: Cry it out

It’s just natural. We’re sad too.
Scott crying GIF

Step Two: Read the CB!B! IMDB Trivia Page

The show is over and it feels like you’ve lost a friend. But how well did you really know this friend? Head over to Comedy Bang! Bang!’s IMDB page to find out some things you may not have known…like that it’s “based on a Civil War battle of the same name” or that “Reggie Watts was actually born with the name Theodore Leopold The Third.”

Step Three: Listen to the podcast

One fascinating piece of CB!B! trivia that you might not learn from IMDB is that there’s a podcast that shares the same name as the TV show. It’s even hosted by Scott Aukerman! It’s not exactly like watching the TV show on a Friday night, but that’s only because each episode is released Monday morning. If you close your eyes, the podcast is just like watching the show with your eyes closed!

Step Four: Watch brand new CB!B! clips?!

The best way to cope with the end of Comedy Bang! Bang! is to completely ignore that it’s over — because it’s not. In an unprecedented move, IFC is opening up the bonus CB!B! content vault. There are four brand new, never-before-seen sketches featuring Scott Aukerman, Kid Cudi, and “Weird Al” Yankovic ready for you to view on the IFC App. There’s also one right here, below this paragraph! Watch all four b-b-bonus clips and feel better.

Binge the entire final season, plus exclusive sketches, right now on the IFC app.

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Everybody Sweats Now

The Four-Day Sweatsgiving Weekend On IFC

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This long holiday weekend is your time to gobble gobble gobble and give heartfelt thanks—thanks for the comfort and forgiveness of sweatpants. Because when it comes right down to it, there’s nothing more wholesome and American than stuffing yourself stupid and spending endless hours in front of the TV in your softest of softests.

So get the sweats, grab the remote and join IFC for four perfect days of entertainment.

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It all starts with a 24-hour T-day marathon of Rocky Horror Picture Show, then continues Friday with an all-day binge of Stan Against Evil.

By Saturday, the couch will have molded to your shape. Which is good, because you’ll be nestled in for back-to-back Die Hard and Lethal Weapon.

Finally, come Sunday it’s time to put the sweat back in your sweatpants with The Shining, The Exorcist, The Chronicles of Riddick, Terminator 2, and Blade: Trinity. They totally count as cardio.

As if you need more convincing, here’s Martha Wash and the IFC&C Music Factory to hammer the point home.

The Sweatsgiving Weekend starts Thursday on IFC

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