5) Will Smith
Nominated for Best Actor, Ali (2001)
Nominated for Best Actor, The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Independence Day (1996), Men in Black (1997), Enemy of the State (1998), Hitch (2005), I Am Legend (2007)
Hancock (July 2), Seven Pounds (December 12)
From his early days rapping in West Philly, to becoming one of the last few bankable stars, Smith hardly gets the respect he deserves for elevating his blockbusters to another level entirely. If Hancock does well (which is hard to see why it would fail), he'll be the only actor to have eight consecutive $100 million-plus films. I expect it to be a huge it, even if parents just don't understand the possible R-rating.
4) Matt Damon
Best Original Screenplay (with Ben Affleck), Good Will Hunting (1997)
Nominated for Best Actor, Good Will Hunting (1997)
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), Ocean's Eleven (2001), The Bourne Supremacy (2004), The Departed (2006), The Good Shepherd (2006)
Margaret (fall), Green Zone (2009)
This understated performer can do more with a gaze (or a blunt object) than most actors can do with a tailor-made script. Why he hasn't been nominated for an Oscar in 10 years is as mysterious as his past in the Bourne series, to which there's allegedly another sequel underway. He's pretty well-respected in Hollywood, but he hasn't had that flashy "give me an award" role, which is fine with us and seems to be fine with him.
3) Philip Seymour Hoffman
Best Actor, Capote (2005)
Nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Charlie Wilson's War (2007)
Almost Famous (1999), Cold Mountain (2003), Mission: Impossible III (2006), The Savages (2007), Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)
Synecdoche, New York (fall), Doubt (December 5)
Pretty much plays flustered and sweaty better than anyone. Starting out with bit parts (the bumbling cop in Nobody's Fool, the cameraman who informed us of "the Suck Zone" in Twister), Hoffman moved up to one of the brightest stars on the indie scene with challenging roles (an obscene phone caller in Happiness, a widower in Love Liza, and a compulsive gambler in Owning Mahoney) before adding "sharted" to the lexicon in Along Came Polly (2004) and taking home the Oscar for playing Truman Capote. He followed that by playing one of the best villains of all-time in M:i:III. Then in 2007, he scored a trifecta of greatness, but only one Oscar nod surfaced. What's next? I say another Oscar within 5 years.
2) Edward Norton
Nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Primal Fear (1996)
Nominated for Best Actor, American History X (1998)
The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), Fight Club (1999), 25th Hour (2002), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), The Illusionist (2006)
The Incredible Hulk (June 13), Pride & Glory (spring 2009)
Bursting on to the scene in '96 with two great roles (the altarboy accused of murder and Larry Flynt's attorney), Norton quickly established himself as a different breed of actor. Choosing to ignore his newfound celebrity status (even after public romances with Courtney Love and Salma Hayek--one of the biggest steps up ever, btw), Norton's almost the Tiger Woods of acting--always good, but choosing to constantly improve himself, even at the cost of big victories. And after powerful turns in his two Oscar-nominated roles, the man still has a knack for comedy (dark in Fight Club and light in Keeping the Faith, his directorial debut). This consistently great actor hasn't let us down yet, and I doubt he'll start anytime soon.
1) Christian Bale
American Psycho (2000), Batman Begins (2005), The Prestige (2006), Rescue Dawn (2007), 3:10 to Yuma (2007)
The Dark Knight (July 18), Terminator 4 (May 22, 2009), Public Enemies (July 1, 2009)
Not many kid actors make the transition to credible adult acting very well, or period, for that matter. But after impressing audiences and filmmakers alike in Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun, as well as Newsies and Little Women, Bale quickly became one of the most daring and chameleon-like actors working. His role as the misogynistic, narcissistic, homicidal executive in American Psycho is arguably his best work, but he continues to wow audiences today. Beginning in 2004, Bale began a dangerous series of roles, losing 60 pounds for The Machinist, then gaining over 100 to play Batman in Christopher Nolan's relaunch. He repeated the cycle to play POW Dieter Dengler in Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn and reprising his role as Batman in The Dark Knight. If Bale can stay healthy, look for a long overdue Oscar nod before the decade's out.