It is tough to assemble a cast as diverse and talented as Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Inception. With six Oscar-nominated actors and two Golden Globe nominees, the cast is complete with renowned performers and icons of tomorrow. In fact, almost every level of the film has an Oscar nominee behind it.

Nolan has always brought top-tier talent to his films – from Guy Pearce to Al Pacino to Christian Bale to Hugh Jackman to Heath Ledger. His main characters are typically the primary focus, but now he broadens the scope and brings an ensemble worthy of applause before the first reel even spins.

Even with a bevvy of talent under his direction, Nolan has still managed to bring the best out of them individually. Who else could have guided Heath Ledger to such a memorable performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight? While much of it came from Ledger’s own creative dedication, it was Nolan’s guidance and inspiration that brought him to such a stunning incarnation of The Clown Prince of Crime.

With Inception, each actor has brought something unique to the deep reservoir of talent. Let’s take a look back at the careers of each actor in the ensemble and determine their best performances to date.

Tom Berenger

We love him for Major League and Sniper, but Tom Berenger was beyond amazing in Platoon and deserved his Oscar nomination for it. It’s been an unfortunate waste of a career for a man who could have been a superstar, but he fell into the B-movie world and never got out. Yet, Berenger’s name is a staple in movies and hopefully he will get a chance to regenerate his career with Inception.

Michael Caine

Between his six Oscar nominations and two wins, it’s kind of strange we all now refer to Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth from Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. However, he played another character over 40 years ago with a similar name and it blew audiences away. In 1966, Michael Caine earned his first Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the titular character in Alfie. Not even a half-assed remake with Jude Law could lessen the charm exhibited by Caine.

But Alfie takes second place alongside the original Get Carter. Caine’s performance as the gangster who sets out to avenge the death of his brother is one of his most memorable performances. It’s tough to compare them all, but with greats like The Cider House Rules, some of his best work has been done over three decades into Caine’s illustrious career. Cider House set the tone for the characters Caine would approach over the next decade of his career.

As he approaches his 150th acting credit in 60 years, the Englishman has become a staple of the industry. His presence simply raises a film’s legitimacy and he has earned that much.

Cillian Murphy

While Cillian Murphy has played a great variety of characters, he seems most comfortable in the extremes. He is a true chameleon. He’s played a villain, a hero, a woman and a scarecrow. We all know him as Scarecrow in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Breakfast on Pluto earned him a Golden Globe nomination. His portrayal of a trans-gender person was as impressive as it was disturbing. 28 Days Later introduced him to the world on a blockbuster scale and Sunshine had its moments, but ultimately held him back for the sake of action.

After 34 performances, The Wind That Shakes The Barley remains his best. His intensely real interpretation of a separated brother in early 20th century Ireland felt the most natural of all his films. Maybe it’s because Murphy was finally awarded a chance to speak in his native tongue. It’s strange how many times he has played an American over the course of his career. The Wind That Shakes The Barley was just as great a film as his performance was within it.

Ken Watanabe

Ken Watanabe is best known for his lengthy career in Japanese cinema, but when he portrayed Katsumoto in The Last Samurai, Watanabe’s career rocketed to international proportions. A man of unbelievable ability was put on display for the world in his first English-speaking performance. He actually found a way to make Tom Cruise feel like scenery, instead of the main character. The film introduced Watanabe to the world and earned him an Oscar nomination. It was hands-down his best work to date.

That says a lot, considering he has been in a handful of great films since 2003. He led the way in Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima, which was nominated for Best Picture. Watanabe played a small role in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, ultimately leading him to Inception. His Japanese performances are likely brilliant, but seeing as we’ve stuck to international films, The Last Samurai takes the cake.

Marion Cotillard

I can’t vouch for any of her French films, but when it comes to international fame, Marion Cotillard’s track record is unfolding in front of our very eyes. With Inception and the upcoming Contagion, she should be a household name soon enough. But she’s been in a handful of star-studded casts already. Cotillard starred alongside Russell Crowe in A Good Year, with Daniel Day-Lewis in Nine and Johnny Depp in Public Enemies.

Her turn as John Dillinger’s love interest in Public Enemies showed her ability to transform was not a one-hit wonder. That wonder was La vie en rose. As Edith Piaf, Cotillard stripped her goddess-like beauty for the physically and emotionally torn singer – and she earned herself an Oscar for it. It is undoubtedly her best performance.

Continue to Inception‘s main cast…

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