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Couch Session: Top 10 Actors Under 30

It seems, lately, more and more young actors are getting their chances to show their ability on the big screen and prove their worth. More often, you’re seeing them coming out and finally having their huge breakout roles as the younger generation starts making its mark on the film industry and Hollywood. In that spirit, today we choose our top 10 young actors. Those that will prove to be the most valuable to film in the coming years and prove to possibly be the next generation of stars in Hollywood.

10. Jesse Eisenberg
Age: 27
Most Notable Role: The Squid and the Whale

To me, Jesse Eisenberg has everything that makes Michael Cera good…then so much more. I first took notice of Eisenberg in comedies Adventureland and Zombieland. He plays that young, likable, awkward role so well (much like Cera). With nice comedic timing and the ability to provide a varying nuance to his “awkward young guy” roles, he manages to keep it fresh each time and brings a certain charm and appeal with him. He has all but locked down the king of lovably nerdy status. Even more so after turning in a possibly Oscar-worthy performance in The Social Network. And he manages to do this while still providing a charm and remaining endearing on screen. As a kid you just can’t help but like, I see a very successful future for Eisenberg. He could arguably be the one with the most hidden potential in this list, as Eisenberg reminds me of a young Tom Hanks.

9. Freddie Highmore
Age: 18
Most Notable Role: Finding Neverland

Freddie Highmore may not have the longest resume, but he definitely has some very good performances and big roles already under his belt at such a young age. Finding Neverland proved to be a breakout for him and he turned in a good performance. For me, however, his most shining moment came in August Rush as a musical prodigy trying to find his parents. This was such a mesmerizing and endearing performance that you couldn’t help but love the kid as an actor afterward. He has such a pure and innocent demeanor to him, that he instantly draws you in and elicits a sense of compassion from viewers. Again, he doesn’t have the longest of resumes, however I see huge things for this kid ahead. It should be quite a treat watching him mature as an actor over the coming years.

8. Paul Dano
Age: 26
Most Notable Role: There Will Be Blood

Paul Dano impressed me from the moment I saw him in Little Miss Sunshine. Showing such an outstanding performance without even talking most of the film he epitomized the phrase the silence can be golden. From his first major movie he has been receiving awards and nominations, as he turned in a very well received performance in L.I.E. Since then, he has time and time again been nominated and has received awards. He even received a BAFTA nomination for his work in There Will Be Blood. From his ability to play a likable nerd in The Girl Next Door to turning in a magnificent and eerie performance in There Will Be Blood. Not many actors can hold their ground against legendary Daniel Day-Lewis. However, Dano has proven he definitely can…twice. I see Dano having a very fruitful career ahead of him. Turning in performances that are mature beyond his years, he has all the skill to be one of the best. He may never (hopefully) become one of those Hollywood blockbuster actors. However, I feel he could be a real staple to the independent scene. He has the ability to undoubtedly become a solid, respectable thespian really shining in his work much like Day-Lewis himself.

7. Jamie Bell
Age: 24
Most Notable Role: Billy Elliot

Jamie Bell is one of the more consistent young actors around today. There’s a lot to be said for a guy who wins a BAFTA Best Actor Award in his very first movie (Billy Elliot). On top of that, he did it at the young age of 14. And he beat out Tom Hanks and Russell Crowe to do so. Since then he has remained a reliable actor, although doing mostly supporting work. However, even in this realm he continues to shine in his own way, even standing out stealing the scenes in Jumper for which Hayden Christensen was supposed to be the lead. In his short time, he has gained the respect of many big named directors. Having worked already with Peter Jackson (King Kong) and Clint Eastwood (Flags of Our Fathers). He is now set to take the lead role in Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin. He’ll be working again with Daniel Craig in Tintin. He worked with Craig previously in Defiance: another film where he turned in a solid supporting role. While not stealing the show, he did still manage to hang in there with some very fine actors and kept from being completely upstaged. If he can manage to get out the shadow of support work, I think we could see some very good things from Bell, a la Billy Elliot.

6. Shia LaBeouf
Age: 24
Most Notable Role: Transformers

Shia Labeouf is probably the one that most disappoints me in this list. However, I don’t mean that as bad as it may sound (after all, he still does make my list). Shia has shown promise since the beginning. He seems to have it all to truly become a poster boy for Hollywood. Therein might lie his “flaw”. He’s always been able to turn in a charming performance and fits that role of down-to-earth/boy-next-door role so ideally. With great performances in both A Guide to Your Saints and The Greatest Game Ever Played, Shia has shown that he is indeed a very capable actor. Even in roles like I, Robot and Constantine he shows his knack for comedic timing, showing range with his skill. My only qualm with his career is Spielberg’s desire to turn him into that Hollywood poster boy. This has meant him taking many more blockbuster/action film parts. Roles that, unfortunately, don’t allow for him to really spread his wings as an actor or really challenge himself. The fear here is that he may become complacent in his craft. However, there is absolutely no doubt, he definitely has talent. And there’s still huge untapped potential in him, I think. Even in “cliche/safe” roles like his Transformers/Indiana Jones/Eagle Eye type parts, Shia still manages to have a charming and endearing presence about him.

5. Ben Foster
Age: 29
Most Notable Role: Alpha Dogs

Ben Foster is one of those that can definitely bring energy and edge to the screen, maybe more so than anyone else on this list. While not the most ranged actor on the list, he can definitely bring energy to the screen as well, if not better, than anybody else on here. From Hostage to Alpha Dogs to 11:14 to 3:10 to Yuma, Ben has always turned in convincing and very adept performances as the cynical/disturbing/psychotic type. He has proven time and time again that he is a master at lighting up the screen when you need to cast a menacing character.

4. Jake Gyllenhaal
Age: 29
Most Notable Role: Brokeback Mountain

I always think of Jake Gyllenhaal as a Toby Maguire with better acting chops. Prior to his breakout, Gyllenhaal did a few odd jobs here and there. Most notably though was his first lead role in October Sky. Turning in an inspiring performance as a young man seeking to avoid the coal mines his father labored in by winning a science scholarship for his work with rockets, Jake really got his foot in the door. I think his real breakout came though with Donnie Darko. Really nailing the role as a troubled and disturbed teen, Jake’s performance in Donnie Darko was really well received by critics. Likewise he turned in another nice performance, again channeling that disturbed mentality, in The Good Girl with Jennifer Aniston. Showing off a bit of range, Jake gave a nice shot at comedy with Bubble Boy. From there, it was nice watching him really grow and mature as a actor. This led to him bringing more edge to his roles. In Jarhead, he channels that disturbed mentality a bit, but brings a more mature and aggressive/manly performance, really shining in the role. Later he goes on to portray a more compassionate character, starring alongside Toby Maguire in Brothers. Ironically though, I feel Maguire turned in the better performance in Brothers, but both did a very good job. Undoubtedly though, Gyllenhaal got his biggest credit for his role in Brokeback Mountain. A film that garnered a very good critical reception for both he and Heath Ledger. Jake stands as another one of those with the ability to play your “every guy” or turn in a decent comedic performance. On top of that, he can bring a heartfelt performance or switch it up and bring a darker more disturbed element to his roles. The only downfall to his past work has been his effort to try to squeeze into that blockbuster scene with his roles in The Day After Tomorrow and Prince of Persia. This area just doesn’t seem to be his strong suit, but as long as he remains with good film acting and stays away from that cliche Hollywood stuff, he could prove to have his best days still ahead of him.

3. Emile Hirsch
Age: 25
Most Notable Role: Into the Wild

Emile Hirsch always seems to bring a certain energy and edge to his characters when on screen. While seemingly a bit more under-the-radar than some of his peers, Emile may possibly be the most well-rounded and polished actors of the younger generation. Whether playing a flamboyant homosexual (Milk) or the edgy street thug type (Lords of Dogtown, Alpha Dogs) or the good-willed, boy-next-door type (The Girl Next Door, Speed Racer), Emile always delivers. Passionate and dedicated to his craft, it definitely shows through in his work. Most notably in his portrayal of McCandless in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild. Turning in a performance that makes you admire and pity him all at the same time, Hirsch just has a way of commanding the viewer’s attention and respect.

2. Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Age: 29
Most Notable Role: (500) Days of Summer

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has proven to be a very likable and very capable actor. Starting as just a child actor with TV shows, he impressed from the start really. Getting his real breakthrough playing a quirky teen in 3rd Rock from the Sun, Gordon-Levitt has proven over the years that he can bend well beyond that comedic range and still keep that charming and endearing quality about himself. Whether doing comedy, like 3rd Rock or 10 Things I Hate About You, or indie dramas, like (500) Days or The Lookout, Joseph definitely has built some credibility and shown his range. Now we can even add blockbuster/action flicks to that after GI Joe and his most recent work in Nolan’s huge hit Inception. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is really starting to be appreciated more appropriately for his work. For this reason, with the skill to back it, I see huge things for him in future. There are even rumors floating around of him reuniting with Inception director Christopher Nolan to possibly play The Riddler in Batman 3. While maybe not my ideal choice for the role, I could definitely see a defining performance from him in the role much like his 10 Things I Hate About You co-star, Heath Ledger, did under Nolan’s tutelage in The Dark Knight.

1. Ryan Gosling
Age: 29
Most Notable Role: Here I’m torn between two – Half Nelson and Lars and the Real Girl

Ryan Gosling always delivers. He seems truly dedicated to his craft. Even more, he has quite a nice range, never shying from a role that may challenge him. From playing a drug-addicted teacher in Half Nelson, to playing a socially awkward man who’s loneliness leads to delusion in Lars and the Real Girl. Gosling has definitely honed his craft over the years. He seems very adept at adapting to any role. In Murder By Numbers he plays the sadistic psychotic. Years later, however, we see him playing the other side of that coin as he plays good guy, going head-to-head in a mental battle with the great Anthony Hopkins in Fracture. Gosling definitely has talent and has plenty awards and nominations to back that. He should be a valuable staple in Hollywood for years to come.

Honorable Mentions
Anton Yelchin
Age: 21; (Alpha Dogs)

Michael Cera
Age: 22; (Superbad and Juno)

Nicholas Hoult
Age: 20; (About a Boy)

Lucas Black
Age: 27; (Slingblade, Killer Diller)

Daniel Radcliffe
Age: 21; (Harry Potter)

So there you have it: my top 10 (with some honorable mentions).

What do you think? Agree with the list? Have a favorite actor that didn’t get mentioned or just feel the list is all kinds of wrong? Head over to my site and join The Couch Potato Club to let me know what you think or who you feel are the best actors that will lead the younger generation and find other movie articles and all the latest news.

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