It's been hit or miss for Reese Witherspoon for the past decade or so. As one of many who was won over by her performances in American Psycho, Cruel Intentions and Legally Blonde, I remain hopeful to the point of blindly optimistic that Witherspoon's next great movie is just around the corner. The last five years haven't exactly been a bevy of stellar credits, with films ranging in quality from decent (Water for Elephants) to barely watchable (How Do You Know) but I'll continue to watch because Witherspoon brings enough charm, charisma and talent to the table to put the "watchable" in "barely watchable." Had someone else played Marlena in Water for Elephants, I'm not sure I would've remembered seeing the film at all. Witherspoon shined in the role, and also captured the necessary spark between her character and Robert Pattinson's Jacob. In fact, their connection on screen may have been the best the film had to offer. Not all of Witherspoon's films are winners, but her performances never falter. She's funny when she needs to be funny, she's dramatic and believable when the role calls for it, and she has the kind of screen presence that always makes her movies worth watching.
Unlike some of the other names on this list, it's totally unlikely that Jason Statham is ever going to win an Oscar. Not only has he never really shown too much range as an actor, he doesn’t typically take on parts that the Academy pays much attention to. But boy, is he a hell of a lot of fun to watch on the big screen.
Since arriving on the scene via Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch - following careers as a model, black market salesman and a diver for the British National Diving Team – Statham has carved out a niche for himself as one of the biggest action stars in the world, and it’s a title that suits him perfectly. The projects he takes on aren’t typically filled with complex and interesting themes, but it’s hard to find a reason to complain watching him take out a room full of dudes with nothing but his fists. He may not have the size of Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone, but thanks to his abundance of charisma, his cool Cockney accent and his all-around badass-ness, I’d be game for Transporter 20 if it were to ever get to that point.
For a long time Guy Pearce was an actor you didn't have to feel guilty for enjoying, popping with charisma in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert or leading with grim noir appeal in Memento. Then came the dark days of the 2000s, and Pearce went from "promising actor on the rise" to "making the most of the bad stuff that comes his way.
And though roles in films like Iron Man 3 and Prometheus mean Pearce is back on an upswing, he still shines the most when he's rising above the crap that surrounds him. The ultimate example, and maybe, seriously, Pearce's best role to date, is last year's Lockout, the movie so insane and loud that its true name is obviously Space Jail. Pearce is channeling pure Kurt Russell as the ex-con charge with rescuing the President's daughter from a space prison in the middle of a mutiny, and he's amazing, as if he's injected the essence of every B-movie into his veins. He's stolen scenes in much better movies, from The King's Speech to Lawless, but his power is in elevating much worse stuff-- something I hope he doesn't lose now that he's regularly got competition for being the best thing in his movies.