As some may have noticed, I've been watching all of the Bond films (in order, mind you). Initially my intent was to introduce my niece and nephew to the grandeur of the world of James Bond, but it quickly became a preferred activity for myself. Though they're both clearly Pierce Brosnan fans (their first introduction to Bond was watching me play the excellent Everything or Nothing video game on Xbox), it's a hilarious thing to see two under-ten-year-olds running around quoting the earlier films. It's also a bit disconcerting to learn that my niece now intends on marrying Bond, but that's another story.
It's a long-running exercise in the media to try to determine who the best Bond is, and while I admit I even gave it a whirl (albeit a half-assed whirl), I'm not convinced that anyone can even honestly try. I mean, Sean Connery has the advantage of originating the role, so even if he had stunk, he'd still be the bar by which all other comers are measured (Michael Keaton as Batman ring a bell?). George Lazenby (admittedly my least favorite Bond) only had one film, so judging him isn't altogether fair (he's certainly not helped by the lack of significant non-Bond projects). Roger Moore gave us the light-hearted and campy Bond, which doesn't really allow for direct comparison to any of the others. Timothy Dalton tried to channel the literary Bond (and generally succeeded, for better or worse). Pierce Brosnan, in my humble opinion, was the ultimate Bond, but suffered from scripts that were too grandiose, even for Bond films. And now, Daniel Craig is hitting the screen as arguably the least-traditional Bond, albeit one who is an amalgamation of Connery and Dalton.
What does this all mean? Well, everyone's going to have a different opinion of who the best Bond is, and those opinions are likely heavily influenced by who the actor was in the first Bond film seen (with notable exceptions, since Moore was the first Bond I remember, though I didn't become a Bond fanatic until Dalton had the role).
In light of all of this, instead of trying to judge who the best 007 is, I'm going to list what I think are the best films played by each of the Bond actors.
Sean Connery - From Russia With Love
I've stated this elsewhere, but From Russia With Love must be heralded for being the first Bond film in which the so-called Bond formula is utilized. Not only that, it stays remarkably close to the book and is an excellent movie. Sure, Dr. No is held closely to Bond film aficionados' hearts, but only because it is the first big screen depiction of 007. Thunderball is damned good, too, and can easily be argued as the best, but the rest are too chaotic, too over the top (Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice included, both of which aren't bad... but don't get me started on Diamonds Are Forever).
George Lazenby - On Her Majesty's Secret Service
This one's obvious, since it's Lazenby's only Bond film. But, I must admit, even in light of Lazenby's slightly disappointing "Connery-emulation," On Her Majesty's Secret Service is one of the series' best overall entries.
Roger Moore - For Your Eyes Only
Moore started out fairly seriously (Live and Let Die), but quickly delved into camp (although The Man With the Golden Gun is a sentimental favorite... blame it on a lonely night in South Korea). The Spy Who Loved Me is a good one, but Moonraker is an embarrassment. And, let's face it, by Octopussy and A View to a Kill, Moore was too old for the role. But in between Moonraker and Octopussy, we got a return to the kick-ass version of Bond we all know and love with For Your Eyes Only. With one of the most sentimental scenes in Bond film history (visiting his dead wife's grave) and the best ski sequences since On Her Majesty's Secret Service, this film stands out as far and away Moore's overall best.
Timothy Dalton - The Living Daylights
This one is also fairly obvious, even in spite of the misguided love towards License to Kill (the only Bond film to earn an R rating upon release... since re-rated, by the way). Dalton's intro is perfect, with a slam-bang pre-title sequence that shows us three 00 agents on screen at the same time, and an opening post-title sequence that is almost verbatim an adaptation of the short story the film is based on. Dalton could have went a long way as Bond, but thanks to some legal issues that delayed the Bond franchise for six years between License to Kill and Goldeneye (the longest break between Bond films so far), we'll never know.
Pierce Brosnan - Goldeneye
Though all of Brosnan's films successfully brought Agent 007 back into the limelight of world cinema, it is his first effort that is the best. Goldeneye has one of the best Bond villains ever (Sean Bean as a traitorous 006), the best Bond girls out of any Brosnan entry, and a script that is remarkably subdued (though still outlandish). Tomorrow Never Dies is a good one, as well, replete with an excellent villain, but its attempt at sentimentality (in the guise of an old flame of Bond's) falls a bit flat. The World Is Not Enough has a horrible script and, though populated by two excellent Bond girls (portrayed by Maria Grazia Cucinotta and Sophie Marceau), has the worst Bond girl ever (Christmas Jones, portrayed by Denise Richards). Die Another Day serves as a good wrap to the film franchise's first 40 years, but the heavy reliance on computer imagery and the appearance of Halle Berry (thank goodness they didn't greenlight her planned spinoff franchise) just doesn't work for me.
Daniel Craig - Casino Royale
The jury's still out on Craig, seeing as how he's only done two and is contractually obligated for more (and we might be waiting awhile, since another extracurricular issue is threatening to derail the franchise again), but given that Quantum of Solace seems more like a direct response to the Jason Bourne franchise rather than an honest attempt at a Bond film, it's pretty easy to claim that Casino Royale is Craig's (so far) best. A franchise reboot, the film also does a good job of sticking to Fleming's novel, and the decision to show Bond's development from rough around the edges to smooth and refined is a great one. It's also relatively easy to claim that Casino Royale (this version, not either of the two that preceded it) is one of the high points of the overall series.
And there you have it.
But, just for the sake of inciting argument: Pierce Brosnan is the best Bond and Casino Royale is the best Bond film. So there. Bring on the double entendre!