Sunday, February 13, 2011

Top 20 Performers of 2010

NOTE: This article was published to Facebook before the Oscar nominations came out. Not bothering to edit.

With all the films I saw last year and all the performances, it's funny how this list is still easy to make. The performers that stand out are the ones that stick with you and make you remember all the things they accomplished. These are the good ones who help make films even better. So here my top 20 performers in alphabetical order.

Jason Bateman

Ever since Bateman’s career revival in Arrested Development he has been typecast in similar positions. Yet with every role he puts something unexpected in it. He was great in State of Play and Juno but with The Switch he does something smarter than the entire film. He depicts his character’s neurotic depression not as a punchline but as a tragedy. It’s not charming and when he looks at his accidental child who has similar traits, there’s real sadness and guilt as well as love. Half of this film works and it’s because of him.

Annette Bening

I’ve always liked Bening, but was never one of the critics hoping she was going to win the big awards. This year that changed. Tomorrow she’ll probably get the nomination for The Kids Are All Right and that’s a very fun and fine performance. Yet I thought she was much better in Mother and Child. It was a very difficult character that starts off as very unloving, but gains sympathy once she develops her own self-respect. She is heartbreaking and ends up holding so much of the emotional weight of the film. Very powerful stuff.

Sean Combs

So who knew P. Diddy could act? I missed his version of A Raisin in the Sun, but he had two great performances this year. He was the only watchable thing in I’m Still Here, playing himself who was properly criticizing Joaquin Pheonix for being an idiot. (I prefer to see it extended to the film itself.) Then he stole the show in Get Him to the Greek. His confidence and wild card status mixed with pitch-perfect comedic timing makes him the funniest thing in an already very funny movie.

Kieran Culkin

Wallace Wells was already my favorite character from the graphic novels. Now the character is even more awesome because of how good Culkin was as the gay roommate to Scott Pilgrim. He has so many great lines, but he always acts like he’s throwing them away. He’s the coolest guy in the room and he will probably steal your boyfriend. He’s hysterical the entire film and is able to pull off most of it just by judgingly glaring at various characters or screaming at them drunk.

Jesse Eisenberg

When I first saw this film in September, I made an idiotic claim that Eisenberg would probably not be nominated for an Oscar. I didn’t know if this was the type of performance people would really start praising. It’s smaller almost to the point of Asberger’s. He’s not likable, but he is undeniably interesting. Eisenberg takes risks and has now joined the group of people who have mastered Sorkin’s dialog speed. The movie hinges on whether or not Mark Zuckerberg is worth all of this attention and Eisenberg does an amazing job and shows he’s capable of more than just a neurotic teen. This is my favorite male performance of the year.

Colin Firth

Maybe it happened between Bridget Jones movies and nobody was noticing, but Firth has turned himself into one of the best actors working today. He’s always creative, but never flashy with the way he portrays a character. With his take on King George VI, he walks the line from being genetically royal in his composure while being internally terrified and embarrassed. The contradiction plays seamlessly and just makes his character more fascinating. The stuttering is not an acting gimmick but an extension of what is really the problem and that’s how he shines.

Zach Galifianakis

Like Bateman, Galifianakis seems to be ready that he is a better actor than people are giving him credit for. The movie It’s Just a Funny Story isn’t very good but he’s incredible in it. He knows how to improv a lot of jokes and he knows how to be the smiling fool. Here he has to do a lot more. He’s shrouded in insecurity and there are moments when he is socially terrified. This drama was very unexpected in the film and Galifianakis brought the whole film into a more realistic and serious point.

Andrew Garfield

Garfield doesn’t give my favorite performance of the year, but he definitely has the best collection in my mind. He’s great as the moral center of The Social Network but he’s even better in his other two movies. In Never Let Me Go he’s like a time bomb. He goes from being on a leash to just wanting to scream as loud as he can. Instead of being flashy or going for the Oscar, he remains true to the character and holds everything in a layer of sadness. In Red Riding, he’s just the opposite. He’s passionate and is able to do more about it—to a point. It almost feels like two different actors; it’s that much of a difference.

John Hawkes

This guy is so awesome. He’s great on Deadwood, LOST and Eastbound and Down. He’s a character actor who has never really got his due, but hopefully this will be the year that will change it. In a movie that’s already pretty scary, he is just terrifying. Yet he’s an ally to our hero. He completely controls every frame he’s in. His presence is so unsettling and I have no idea how he does it. He plays the character as if he knows his entire past and because of that he has no intention to ever let the audience know about it.

Chloe Moretz

Until a certain ballerina movie, Moretz was my favorite female performance of the year. Not for the incredibly fun role in Kick-Ass but for her roll as the old/young vampire in Let Me In. I adore the original film, Let the Right One In, and was very confused on why this movie had to be made. It really didn’t have to, but I’m glad it did because it ended up being very strong especially because of Moretz. The original girl was very creepy, but Moretz played up the suffering that Abby was dealing with. There was so many reasons to pity her, but just as many to judge her for her cruelness. These additional nuances made it an even greater story. She has quite the career ahead of her.

Carey Mulligan

Mulligan remains one of the best actresses working today and she has only been active for a few years. She excelled in two films that were pretty lame, but was even better when she had a strong script. Never Let Me Go was all about the subtle emotions of its three lead actors. They had to encompass an entire life in just a short amount of years and they had to do it through a lot of limitations. Mulligan mixed tragedy with hope. With that her journey was one of the greatest of the year and the one with the most memorable conclusions.

Edward Norton

Everyone really needs to see this film. It was this hilarious film that had its own voice and an awesome dual performance by Norton. It always seems like this guy didn’t have much of a sense of humor about himself. Here he gives two fantastic performances including one of a silly Southern pothead. Both characters are treated with respect and fearlessness. This is the Edward Norton that is really funny to watch.

Natalie Portman

For a movie that is very flawed, Portman is just excellent. She makes all of the epic scenes even grander by her intense dedication to the material and the format. Her dance scenes are amazing but she extends her movement beyond the stage. Depending on her mental state, she either glides throughout the world or is a little more naturalistic. It’s a great display of her range as she battles with some radical stuff. It’s ruthless and very impressive. Best female performance of the year.

Daniel Radcliffe

Who saw this coming? The first two Harry Potter flicks weren’t really known for its acting, aside from fun performances by great older actors. Then throughout the series Radcliffe has proved that he not only is learning the craft but becoming very talented. As we enter the final chapter of this long series, he is showing that this is just the start of his career. His raw emotion and sometimes defeated nature made this (half of the) final chapter so much more epic and exhausting. I can’t see what he does with the rest of the movie.

Noomi Rapace

I’m a big fan of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series of books. The first two rock and the third one eventually gets around to being very good. The lead character of Lisbeth Salander is not an easy role to cast, but Sweden did a great job with Rapace who is completely badass, fascinating, and hardcore. She’s not flashy and even as the movies get worse she maintains a very strong performance. As good as Rooney Mara is, it’ll be very difficult for people not to think of Rapace when people talk about Salander.

Ryan Reynolds

I’ve always liked Ryan Reynolds. He is very fun and charismatic in all of his roles. I haven’t seen him in anything dramatic before, aside from select scenes of Definitely Maybe…and that wasn’t that dramatic. Here the drama is intense as you can imagine. In Buried he is literally buried alive with limited air, a dying cell phone and whatever else he has on him. He battles his surroundings and the beurocracy from above. It’s a one man show and he pulls it off. The film was never boring and even when it went into questionable directions, Reynolds totally sold it.

Hailee Steinfeld

This first time actor outshined Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper. Part of that is the script is really really good so she had some help there. Yet there’s something else there. It’s the determination that does not serve as simple cover up for insecurity. Instead it’s a fierce quality that is honest despite her young age. The title refers to her and without a powerful performance it will mistakenly go to someone else. Just fantastic work.

Tilda Swinton

Of course she’s brilliant. It should be expected by now, but she still surprises me every time. She is the matriarch of an Italian family where she starts to have an affair. It’s a grand melodrama that’s entirely in Italian. So Swinton learned Italian. Also she learned Russian because her character is from Russia. She learned two languages for this film! It all pays off in a rare sweeping fashion where she is in sync with the visual style of the movie to create something very exciting.

Naomi Watts

I still really like Watts. She was very strong at the beginning of the decade and then got stuck into parts like King Kong and The International. They aren’t bad performances, but they’re just easier. This year she had three very different performances that played up the power she conveys on screen. Stranger is more comedic but it’s still emotionally loose as she deals with her frustration. Fair Game showed her impressive level of restraint. Then my favorite, Mother and Child allowed her to play something that challenged the audience’s view of her because it was someone so layered it was difficult to decipher. She’ll get her statue one day…

Olivia Williams

Finally we have Olivia Williams. After Rushmore she just about dropped off my radar before returning heavily in the past few years. She’s one of the only consistent things about the TV show Dollhouse, she was very good in An Education and she was even fun this year in an episode of Terriers. Her best performance lately though was her role in The Ghost Writer. It’s the standard archetypical role where she’s probably not to be trusted, but Williams plays with the genre and gives something very memorable as a character who fluxes throughout the film. She’s strong but not overpowering. That way she can slip out of the scene without you noticing. Very good.

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