Best actors and directors under age 40

I like lists, do you? No? Tough, this is my blog! Here’s my list of the 5 best directors and actors under age 40 (working largely in English language features – I’m less up on world cinema so I won’t go there.) I turned 30 this year and I’ve slowly come to realize that my generation (I consider myself the tail end of “Gen X” and not part of “Gen Y” or the Millenials) has begun to really come into it’s own in the film world so I wanted to give a look at my most accomplished peers.

Yes, I know that Gen X includes Stephen Soderberg (age 47), Lynne Ramsay (age 40), PT Anderson (also age 40) and Noah Baumbach (also age 40 – frack, 1969 and 1970 ware good years for directors!) and such but I’m sticking with folks under 40 – fellow late Gen Xers who came of age influenced by the kings and queens of the early and mid-90s Sundance Era. Folks who matured only have to battle their way in the aughts and 2010s, an era in which the fallout of the indie-tastic 90s (specifically the shuttering of many indie-major studios) has proven a difficult landscape for interesting and small films to gain traction (not to mention distribution.)


Michelle Williams (age 29)

Who would have guessed that the late addition to the verbose and melodramatic late 90s teen soap opera Dawson’s Creek would have become perhaps the most gifted American actress of her generation? Her skilled and heartbreaking turns in Brokeback Mountain and especially in Wendy and Lucy, a performance shot of such bravery and vulnerability that I still cry every time I see it even after more than six viewings. I’m very much looking forward to her starring role in the Fall 2010 release Blue Valentine along with with my #2 on this list…

Ryan Gosling (age 29)

Generally strong choices of roles (though most people remember him for The Notebook which I still refuse to see.) Especially impressive in the intense dramas The Believer and>Half Nelson as well as the lighter comedy Lars and the Real Girl.

Joseph Gordon Levitt (age 27)

A child actor, Levitt’s talent really blossomed as a young man when he played a young gay hustler dealing with past abuse in Gregg Araki’s surprisingly mature Mysterious Skin. Has taken both heavy and light roles and may be following in the footsteps of George Clooney as Hollywood’s next leading man for his generation.

Samantha Morton (age 33)

Soulful performances in Morvern Callar, In America, Synechdoche, New York, Jesus’ Son, Sweet and Lowdown, The Messenger the list goes on and on. Her body of work is better than many great actresses twice her age.

Sarah Polley (age 31)

Not only a wonderful actress but showed great promise as a director with her debut feature Away from Her.

Honorable mentions:

Collin Farrell (age 34)

I used to hate Collin Farrell and his stupid George Michael stubble and his squinty good looks but he’s taken on some really juicy roles in the past few years. Capt. John Smith in Terrence Malick’s always impressive The New World, the underappreciated someday classic buddy comedy In Bruges, and even the terribly derivative and forgettable Woody Allen thriller Cassandra’s Dream.

Anna Faris (age 33)

Anna Faris…seriously! Best comic film actress of her generation. She’s been the saving grace of some pretty terrible films (see the Scary Movie franchise, The House Bunny and Smiley Face) but her turn as the hyper-sexual lesbian vet tech in Lucky McKee’s May is her greatest performance too few have seen. And her bit roles in Lost in Translation and Brokeback Mountain show her range quite well.


Rahmin Bahrani (age 35)

Hasn’t missed the mark yet – his three features Man Push Cart, Chop Shop and Goodbye Solo have been the best examinations of the lives of the underclass in post-9/11 America. I feel priviliged that we have a whole lifetime to see what this guy can do!

David Gordon Green (age 35)

Green came charging right out of the gate with his lyrical southern Gothic fable George Washington and followed it up with the equally impressive romantic drama All the Real Girls (introducing me to my cliché crush Zoey Deschanel) and the severely underrated Snow Angels. He’s branched out quite a bit recently though with his foray into stoner comedy Pineapple Express and continues to expand his range with his upcoming remake of Dario Argento’s Italo-horror classic Suspiria.

Sofia Coppolla (age 39)

Two big hits (The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation) and an ambitious miss (Marie Antoinette), the girl who ruined The Godfather III (so they say – so many people say it’s bad that I’ve stayed away) is a known commodity in Hollywood now and not just because of her last name.

Andrew Bujalski (age 33)

The youngest director on this list helped jumpstart the most innovative film movements of the aughts with his debut Funny, Ha Ha and has shown growing maturity as a filmmaker with his follow ups Mutual Appreciation and Beeswax. Slowly climbing out of the mumblecore ghetto it’s only a matter of time before a major studio takes a flier and gives him a shot at making a film on a decent budget.

Ondi Timoner (age 37)

The up and coming documentarian of her generation. Her profile of the manic brilliance/instanity/sociopathy of musician Anton Newcombe in Dig! was hypnotic and her recent underappreciated film about internet enterperneur and visionary Josh Harris We Live in Public put her squarely on this list.

Honorable Mentions:

Christopher Nolan (gets in just under the wire – he’s turning 40 in 8 days)
Rian Johnson (age 36)

Who are your best in film under 40?

Explore posts in the same categories: Uncategorized

2 Comments on “Best actors and directors under age 40”

  1. Jeff Says:

    Damn, how did I forget about Michael Fassbender? Take out Sarah Polley and put him in slot #5!

  2. Steve Says:

    Escellent article and points – thanks!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: