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After finally catching The Dark Knight Rises the other day, I mentioned on Facebook that Tom Hardy (who plays Bane in DKR) and Henry Cavill (who was in the Superman trailer they showed before the film) need to have a kissing competition, so I can figure out which one is cuter. I still believe this.

Who is cuter? It’s so hard to decide …

A friend recommended I watch Bronson, one of Hardy’s earlier movies. “Half-naked, covered in tattoos and body paint, shaved head, huge mustache, acts like a psychopath — you will drool!” she enthused.

She was right. It’s a little disturbing that she knew me so well.

Bronson is the story of Britain’s most famously violent prisoner, one Mickey Peterson, who gave himself the stage name of “Charlie Bronson,” after the American actor. Usually, I like my tragic biopics to be more naturalistic. This one kept up a tight ironic shell around itself: you couldn’t care about anybody in the movie because the characters were never allowed to be more than fun little meatmasks for actors over-acting — especially Tom Hardy. He gets his maximum daily allowance of scenery chewing, and more, in every single scene. He was irresistible to watch, though, and not just because of his sexy psycholiciousness. It takes a rare charisma to be able to overact this widely and keep an audience on your side.

That’s why I think he may be the William Shatner of his generation.

I do not say this sneeringly. Shatner’s gifts are astounding, flailing arms, halting lilt and all. He would have been considered the greatest actor of his day, if his day had been a hundred or two hundred years earlier, before naturalistic acting and “the Method” came into play.

Think of Shatner and Hardy as cousins of the Booths and the original Barrymores. They’re still playing to the balcony seats in the back, shouting their lines and mugging their faces. I like it. Johnny Depp goes in that direction a bit, too, but he’s not nearly as hot shirtless as either Hardy or (the young) Shatner.

I am overstating my case a little bit. The quiet, dangerous things that Hardy does with his voice sometimes — in Bronson, in DKR, and in every other role I’ve seen him play — would be impossible without the microphone, and it is the microphone (as well as the close-up) that ushered in the age of the intimate, understated performance.

But I can ignore that, because I’m a blogger, and bloggers don’t have to actually believe everything they say, especially when the subject is Cute Actors.

As for the original impetus behind this post: I kind of think Henry Cavill might be hotter than Hardy, though he’s a far more conventional contemporary actor. I still need to see that kiss! Maybe Shatner should join the competition as well.

Updated to add: in a post from a few months ago, my friend Christopher Wright makes a convincing case that “the Method” is precisely what was responsible for Shatner’s acting style, and the quiet, understated performances we are accustomed to are what replaced “the Method.” Chris has actually studied this stuff, so he knows whereof he speaks. His post on the subject is really good, too — you should read it, if you have any interest in the evolution of acting styles (and how that relates to writing, which is where he ultimately takes it).