DAILY BEAST

LOS ANGELES -Sean Penn? Daniel Day-Lewis? Nope. It’s Joaquin Phoenix, who delivers the year’s finest performance as a sad-sack divorcé who falls in love with an operating system in ‘Her.’

During the early 1970s, a young, fearless actor equipped with a devilish grin, mysterious past, and unorthodox methods burst onto the scene like a bat out of hell. Five Easy Pieces. Carnal Knowledge. The Last Detail. Chinatown. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It was a captivating crescendo of performances, each one more nuanced-and gripping-than the last, signaling the arrival of a new screen legend: Jack Nicholson.

Nicholson was a cinematic disruptor; a new breed of actor-brash, enigmatic-who defied the rigid conventions of ‘60s stardom. He was the next Brando. But your time at the summit of Hollywood is fleeting and, by 1980, he’d been overtaken by another young, fearless method actor with some demons in his closet by the name of Robert De Niro.

Labeling someone the “greatest actor alive” is a tough gambit. For one, it’s entirely subjective, because the quality of a given performance is in the eye of the beholder. And, as far as male actors go, there isn’t a virtuoso like Meryl Streep that towers above the rest. There are, it seems, a plethora of options.