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…


Tom Hardy

Tom Hardy’s career has been a hidden success. The world still doesn’t know his name, but it should. He started off strong with small roles in Black Hawk Down and HBO’s Band of Brothers. Star Trek fans will recognize him as Praetor Shinzon in Star Trek: Nemesis. But then he did a string of films in his homeland of England. His variety of characters was intriguing to watch in films like Layer Cake, Marie Antoinette and RocknRolla. But then his most unbelievably brilliant performance came.

In 2008, Hardy packed on 42 pounds in five weeks to portray Charles Bronson, the most notorious prisoner in England. The titular character of the film Bronson gave Hardy an opportunity to be unrestricted on-screen. While the film is still relatively unknown across the globe, anybody who sees it becomes completely engrossed by Hardy’s performance. He strips himself, covers himself in grease and goes all-out in a battle with himself and those around him. Watching this film will make you wonder why he hasn’t already been cast as a Batman villain or James Bond (though he will be replacing Mel Gibson as the new Mad Max). Tom Hardy’s charisma is truly endless – a fact our own Rob Keyes says is undeniable in Inception.

Ellen Page

It’s no secret that Juno was Ellen Page’s step into movie stardom. But her road to it was filled with small indies and other riveting performances. As Shadowcat in X-Men: The Last Stand, she didn’t stretch her acting ability, but proved she can handle action sequences like the ones she would later perform in Inception. Really, the must-see film of her career is Hard Candy. If you want an idea of her on-screen talent, watch her play the twisted girl who is always in charge, but never looks it.

Yet, obviously her performance in the quirky Juno catapulted her to the worldwide name she is today. While Page has screenwriter Diablo Cody to thank for that, she was ultimately believable and spontaneous in the titular role of Juno MacGuff. She earned herself that Oscar nomination. Just don’t expect anything like Juno in Inception.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

We’ve known about Joseph Gordon-Levitt for quite some time. Many still remember him as a young boy waving his arms at Danny Glover when he saw an angel in Angels in the Outfield. One of his most widely-appreciated films came five years later with 10 Things I Hate About You. But both of those still held back the clearly talented actor.

After over a decade of weaving his way through the indie circuit, people began to take notice of his ability. Gordon-Levitt hid behind the flashy lights of Hollywood and stuck to films he cared about on a personal level. But last year, he broke out into the limelight for all to see. Alongside Zooey Deschanel, he shined in Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer. The film’s non-linear narrative structure put his ability to believably play multiple emotions on display. The film made him a star and earned him a Golden Globe nomination.

But none of those films are a true testament to his skills in front of the camera. Brick gave Gordon-Levitt a chance to portray a dark and emotionally-driven character. The story revolves around his character, an amateur gumshoe who sinks to the murky depths of a high school crime ring to personally uncover the secrets behind his ex-girlfriend’s disappearance. Brick‘s Noir atmosphere and and stylized language showed that Gordon-Levitt shared the creative spark you hope for in an actor willing to take risks (ultimately to his reward). It also showed why he’s perfect for Inception.

Leonardo DiCaprio

Titanic made him a superstar, but it was the film’s box office success that sprouted his international fame. DiCaprio has been nominated for an acting Oscar three times, and one of them is his best performance. In Blood Diamond he sported a South African accent and gave us a heart-wrenching character arc. But the “bling-bang” character was not his best. In The Aviator, DiCaprio sported the famous mustache of Howard Hughes in Martin Scorsese’s epic biopic. The film was a beautiful display of history and charisma, pushing DiCaprio into a darker place than he had ever been before. But it was not his best.

It was DiCaprio’s Oscar-nominated supporting role that stands out as his most memorable work. Anybody who can show up Johnny Depp in a film named for Depp’s character is someone to remember. As Arnie Grape in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, DiCaprio presented a timeless depiction of the mentally challenged teenager whose family could never quite understand him. It was more than the character that allowed DiCaprio to explore his acting prowess. His ability to completely embody Arnie Grape was as mesmerizing as it was tragic. At such a young age, the actor put away any ego or fear and tackled the character with the confidence of a grizzled veteran. Ever since, he has continued to challenge himself with multi-layered characters, despite the occasional box office-friendly role.

The Inception cast is something to behold, but according to the reviews, Christopher Nolan has assembled a cast where the viewer can pick any actor and find individual greatness in their performance. With a respected history behind each actor, it’s no surprise they bring an extra element to their characters.

Feel free to share your opinions on each actor’s best role, but remember to keep it clean. If you think I am way off on one of them, let us know why and what made another performance better.

Inception hits theaters and IMAX on July 16th, 2010.

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