Mark Wahlberg: Great actor or greatest actor?


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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.


Don't Act Your Age

10 Actors Who Went Old

Catch David Krumholtz on Gigi Does It tonight at 10:30P on IFC.

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You always hear about older actors clinching to their youth by taking on vastly younger, age-inappropriate roles. (The collective age of the 90210 cast, especially in later seasons, was definitely in the hundreds.) But those thespians who choose to age up — through the use of prosthetics, makeup, or otherwise — often deliver astounding performances.

Take David Krumholtz. On the new IFC series Gigi Does It, the actor plays Gigi, a 76-year-old yenta who’s determined to live life to the fullest after her late husband leaves her with a crap ton of moolah.

In honor of his achievements — and those who’ve paved the way for Gigi — here are some celebrities who have successfully infiltrated the senior citizens club.

1. David Krumholtz, Gigi’s Bucket List



Krumholtz is pulling a Mrs. Doubtfire — who we’ll get to in a moment — with Gigi. Whether bossing around her male nurse or talking about flashing her boob to her grandson, Krumholtz seems to be having a blast as his raunchy alter ego.

2. Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button


You can’t talk about actors portraying the elderly without acknowledging that infamously fictional affliction, Benjamin Button’s Disease. Brad Pitt portrays the title role of a man who ages backwards after being physically born as an old person. It’s everyone’s dream, right — the older you get, the younger you look? A mixture of computer-generated effects and makeup went into this transformation, and it’s still difficult to look away.

3. Tilda Swinton, The Grand Budapest Hotel


Swinton is the true mistress of disguise. She has made a living by completely losing herself in her characters, whether its playing the traditionally male archangel Gabriel in Constantine, the evil witch in The Chronicles of Narnia, or the toothy one-percenter of Snowpiercer. With Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, she once again became unrecognizable as one of the elderly lovers of the hotel’s concierge. She’s got the senile look and feel down pat.

4. Johnny Knoxville, Bad Grandpa


For his latest Jackass movie, Knoxville took his shenanigans to a new level in portraying Irving Zisman, the elderly bad influence in his grandson’s life. In the same vein as his previous stunts, he pranked real-life people with his prosthetically enhanced persona, crashing a wedding by knocking over an entire display, ruining a child pageant, and “making it rain” on a stripper.

5. Robin Williams, Mrs. Doubtfire


Remember that famous story about the late Robin Williams strolling into a sex shop in NYC as Mrs. Doubtfire? That’s how committed he was and how unrecognizable he was as the lovable nanny. Just like David Krumholtz, Williams underwent a hefty makeup and prosthetic process, and it will always go down as one of his most memorable roles.

6. Dustin Hoffman, Little Big Man


Paramount Films

While Krumholtz is 37 going on 76, Dustin Hoffman was 33 going on 121 for this acclaimed role. The 1970 Arthur Penn film Little Big Man told of an oral historian who comes across an elderly man (Hoffman) who has one crazy story to tell. It’s a tale of gunslinging, selling snake oil and the infamous Battle of the Little Bighorn. But most astonishing of all is the sight of Hoffman in character.

7. Meryl Streep, Angels in America


Meryl Streep played several roles in the HBO adaptation of Tony Kushner’s acclaimed play. You might have missed her the first time around because she looks like just one of the rabbis, especially when she sits next to a line of them. Yes, that’s the Oscar winner as Rabbi Isidor Chemelwitz, and if you listen carefully, you can pick out her voice under the heavy white beard.

8. Helena Bonham Carter, Big Fish


Much like Tilda Swinton, Helena Bonham Carter comes alive when you bury her in layers of makeup, prosthetics and elaborate costumes. Before debuting as Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the actress portrayed another kind of enchantress in Tim Burton’s Big Fish. She looks just as home with a wrinkled face and glass eye as she does flaunting a bubbly, sparkling ball gown as the Fairy Godmother in the Disney remake of Cinderella.

9. Guy Pearce, Prometheus


20th Century Fox

In Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, Guy Pearce aged himself way up to play the financial backer of an interstellar expedition who hopes to find some means of extending his life. What’s more shocking: the existence of the Engineers or how Guy resides underneath all that old-man makeup?

10. James D’Arcy, Cloud Atlas


Warner Bros.

The Wachowski’s Cloud Atlas may not have been the most well-received film, critically speaking, but it did feature incredible transformations from its actors, most of which portrayed more than one role. James D’Arcy took on four roles, two of which were the young and old versions of Rufus Sixsmith.

Fred on Seth

Fred's TV Recap

Watch Fred Armisen Give an ‘Extremely Accurate’ TV Recap

Portlandia returns January 21st, 2016 at 10P ET/PT on IFC.

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Did you know that Portlandia and Documentary Now! co-star Fred Armisen is so addicted to television that he can recap any show you throw at him? It’s an astounding feat, one that Seth Meyers had to share with the world in a recent episode of Late Night With Seth Meyers.

Fred is tasked to review last week’s episode of Haven which, due to popular misconception, is not actually a SyFy program loosely based on a Stephen King novel that focuses on Canadian townspeople with supernatural afflictions. Rather, as Fred explains, it’s “sort of a Friday Night Lights type of show,” centered around a small-town football team called The Havens. But because the town is so small, not only can they barely afford a football, they don’t have another team to play against. It’s a character study, really.

For more Fred, be sure to check back here for news on the sixth season of Portlandia, which premieres January 21st at 10P ET/PT on IFC.


Balls to the Wall

Meet a Dysfunctional Dodgeball Team on Ball or Nothing

Catch new Comedy Crib episodes every Tuesday.

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In the first episode of Comedy Crib‘s Ball or Nothing, Chloe just wants to hit her ex in the face — with a dodgeball. Since her ex really, really deserves such a fate, her teammates are more than happy to have her back on this one.

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The new series will take you onto the sidelines of an adult dodgeball team, revealing that like on Benders, sometimes real life happens on the sidelines. The show is written and created by Megan Rosati of the hit comedic web series 52 Ways to Break Up and features actress Brea Grant (Heroes, Real Housewives of Horror) as the very intense teammate Chloe.

Also on Comedy Crib this week, the latest episode of Does Dave Know We’re Here? shows how a group of friends kill time in the car while waiting for their pal Dave. If you’ve ever wanted to get into the tuxedo shirt business, this episode is for you.

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Turkey Day Binge

Spend Thanksgiving in Sweatpants With IFC’s Sweatsgiving Marathon

Spend Thanksgiving weekend on the couch with Todd Margaret, That '70s Show and more.

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Thanksgiving means food, family, stretchy pants, and a lot of time on the couch. Make the most of your couch time and come hang out with IFC, because we’re spending the long weekend running marathons. No, not the kind that involve actually sweating. We’re running back-to-back episodes of all the shows you love and movies you can’t stop watching. Don’t believe us? Check out the turkey-tastic video below.

Starting early Thursday morning, November 26th, head to Red’s basement for some quality time with Jackie, Kelso, Donna, Fez, Hyde, and Eric with a marathon of That ’70s Show. Afterwards, sink into a turkey-induced TV coma with David Cross and the Thunder Muscle crew in seasons one and two of Todd Margaret before the new season starts on January 7th.  On Black Friday, skip the shopping-crazed hordes for marathons of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Exorcist movies. And while you’re gorging on leftovers on Saturday, catch a Resident Evil movie marathon that’ll sate your zombie-killing appetite. (Comedy Bang! Bang! fans take note — Scott and Kid Cudi will return Thursday, December 3rd at 11P with back-to-back episodes.)

If you’re spending the weekend on the couch, be sure to tweet or Instagram along with us using the #IFCSweatsgiving hashtag. Post a selfie watching IFC with the hashtag #IFCSweatsgiving and you’ll be entered to win a sweet pair of IFC pants. IFC’s Sweatsgiving is the perfect way to catch all your favorite IFC programming and avoid your kooky Aunt Edith this Thanksgiving season.

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