By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist October 24, 2012 at 2:23PM
Like Farrell, Butler has been touted for leading man status for a decade or so, cropping up in "Reign of Fire," "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life" and "Timeline" in the early part of the '00s, and impressing in homegrown picture "Dear Frankie." And while "The Phantom Of The Opera" was something close to a disaster, it looked like he'd actually made it when he toplined surprise smash "300" in 2006. And unlike some of these actors, Butler does have a legitimate audience, a small but fervent band of female followers who'll turn up to films like "The Ugly Truth" and "P.S. I Love You" and keep them profitable. But they don't crossover to the fare that's not directly targeted to them, hence the underperformance of films like "Gamer" and especially "Machine Gun Preacher," which tried to cement him as a serious actor, but which ended up taking a truly terrible $1.1 million worldwide. That most of his films vary between mediocre and terrible is perhaps a more serious concern. Short of the essentially-being-buried "Chasing Mavericks" or the equally undersold "Playing For Keeps" turning out to be hidden gems, the best thing he's done in recent memory is a vocal turn in "How To Train Your Dragon." A sequel to that's on the way, along with a starring role in "Olympus Has Fallen," but the latter risks looking like the cheaper version of the bigger-budget "White House Down." Butler has talent, but if he doesn't want those roles to dry up, he needs to start taking more parts like his small but impressive performance in "Coriolanus."
Yeah, it almost goes without saying. And there's a reasonably good reason for the downfall of Mr. Cage -- huge tax debts have left him taking virtually any offer that lands on his desk, or at least that's how it seems. But it's unbelievably dispiriting to see the man who starred in "Raising Arizona,' "Wild At Heart," "Leaving Las Vegas" and "Adaptation" reduced to this point. Cage has always been inconsistent, but in his late '90s prime, it seemed that for every Bruckheimer blockbuster he took, there was another small movie and brilliant performance (plus he's great value in things like "The Rock" and "Face/Off"). And even a few years ago, things like the "National Treasure" franchise made him a legitimate A-lister, even if the dodgy likes of "Ghost Rider" and "The Wicker Man" had already started cropping up. But since "Bad Lieutenant" in 2009 (itself a Millennium exploitation movie given greater weight by the direction of Werner Herzog), he's seemingly made a cheap action movie every few months. Some have been ok (he's very fun in "Kick Ass," maybe "Drive Angry" if we were feeling generous), most have been dreadful, and Cage seems to be valuable more as a pre-sale face than as an actual actor. But 2013 looks a little better. He'll feature in an actual proper, studio release, albeit in voice only, with "The Croods," and is about to work with David Gordon Green on "Joe," but the bulk of the stuff he has in the works is the same kind of bordering-on-self-parody sub-Liam Neeson thriller he's been churning out for some time. Can't Quentin Tarantino or someone give him a reinvention at this point? How much tax can one man have to pay back anyway?
As someone for whom "Grosse Point Blank" and "High Fidelity" were seminal moments of my adolescence, it breaks our heart to have Cusack on a list like this. But the actor who was once practically an A-lister, and the star of clssics like "Eight Men Out," "The Grifters," " Say Anything" and "Being John Malkovich" has, over the last few years, become the guy who seems to pick up the parts that Nicolas Cage turns down. It hasn't even been that long since Cuscak starred in a commercial hit. He toplined both "1408" and "2012" in the late '00s, and while neither are exactly high-art, they seemed to validate him as a leading man. But just about everything since has been a disaster. Those that made it to theaters, like "Hot Tub Time Machine," "The Paperboy" and "The Raven" were pretty dreadful, and made no money. But there were others that didn't even get that far: "War Inc" barely got a release, and "Shanghai" and "The Factory" are still essentially missing in action, though have snuck onto DVD in some parts of the world. And we're not that confident in some of the stuff he's got coming up, which includes co-starring with Nic Cage in dreadful-looking serial killer flick "The Frozen Ground," and the ludicrous-sounding thriller "Grand Piano." And really, Cusack has no one to blame but himself -- the films he's picked have just been plain bad. Time to reconnect with the top-flight filmmakers that he worked with in the 1990s -- surely an old pal like Cameron Crowe or Stephen Frears could find him a part in something.
Thoughts? At least all these actors still have hope (ok Cage is a question mark), unlike say Cuba Gooding Jr. or Heather Graham who's career-choices seem to have gone severely off the deep end in the last decade, minus a few decent turns that have gone mostly unnoticed. Let us know below.