Peter Travers' Top 10 Actors Who Direct in the 21st Century - Rolling Stone
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Peter Travers’ Top 10 Actors Who Direct in the 21st Century

From Ben Affleck to Lena Dunham

Actors/Directors

We're watching movies in a century with the bloom still on it. Tough sledding for actors who direct if they want to match or exceed the success record of their predecessors. Given the 20th-century triumphs of such icons as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurence Olivier and Citizen Kane auteur Orson Welles, plus directing Oscar wins for the starry likes of Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven), Robert Redford (Ordinary People), Warren Beatty (Reds), Mel Gibson (Braveheart), Kevin Costner (Dances With Wolves), and — kill me now! — Roberto Benigni (Life Is Beautiful), the 21st century offers challenges galore. Here's a list of 10 actor-directors trying to stake their claim on both sides of the camera.

Quentin Tarantino

TWC

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Quentin Tarantino

Given the way QT the filmmaker re-invented crime drama in the 1990's with Reservoir Dogs (he played Mr. Brown) and Pulp Fiction (he played the memorably flustered Jimmie Dimmick), you would think the former video-store clerk had no more worlds to conquer. Then in 2003 came the girl-powered Kill Bill and its sequel a year later. He celebrated women again in the "Death Proof" segment of 2007's Grindhouse, casting himself as Rapist No. 1., and he was the first scalped victim in his 2009 groundbreaker, Inglourious Basterds. We eagerly await new Tarantino surprises at year's end when he unleashes Django Unchained, a western that takes on slavery.

Sean Penn

©Paramount/courtesy Everett Collection

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Sean Penn

When he's not winning Oscars for acting in 2003's Mystic River and 2008's Milk, Sean Penn takes the director's seat and gives his chosen material complete focus. So far, Penn has not tried to direct himself as an actor. He started directing with 1991's The Indian Runner (based on Springsteen's "Highway Patrolman") and 1995's The Crossing Guard. But Penn hit his stride with 2001's The Pledge, starring Jack Nicholson as a retired cop tackling one more case. He did his finest, deepest work to date in 2007's Into the Wild, the true story of a college grad (Emile Hirsch) lost in body and mind in the Alaskan wilderness.

George Clooney

©Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

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George Clooney

People mag's two-time Sexiest Man Alive already has an Oscar for acting, for 2005's Syriana. And he came damn close to catching Academy gold for directing Good Night, and Good Luck in the same year. Clooney debuted behind the camera with 2002's Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, suffered a setback with 2008's Leatherheads, and then came back swinging as director and actor in the 2011 political drama, The Ides of March.

Ben Affleck

Keith Bernstein/© 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

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Ben Affleck

The just-opened Argo, a fact-based thriller about the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, is already getting raves, not just for Affleck's understated performance as a top CIA extractor, but for his skill at calling the shots. Affleck already showed he had directing chops with 2007's Gone Baby Gone and 2010's The Town, both set in his native Boston. But Argo puts him on a global stage. That sound you hear is Oscar buzzing.

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