3. Joaquin Phoenix
Phoenix has been at the center of two Anderson films so far, and has delivered two of the strangest leading man performances ever committed to film. In The Master, he was broken-down WWII vet Freddie Quell, full of inchoate longing and unable to connect – an all-American fuck-up who found a home in the bosom of Philip Seymour Hoffman's bizarre, all-consuming cult. In Inherent Vice, however, he's a loser of a different kind – a tripped-out, lovesick, paranoid private eye who, investigating his ex-girlfriend's disappearance, stumbles upon what might be a terrifying, yet vague, conspiracy. But the character is more than just a funky, Pynchonesque collection of tics. Rather, he's a figure who is at the constant mercy of his impulses – he can't resist any offer of sex or drugs. There's a universality to both these performances that suggest that Phoenix is portraying not just a very specific character, but also a whole category of messed-up American male.