Top performances of 2010 (alphabetical)
7.51. Amy Adams
As Charlene Fleming in THE FIGHTER
I called her character "one tough bitch" in my review, which sounds about right, though I think "one great actress" would be the more appropriate term here. Adams gives it her all in every role, and all The Fighter proves is that she isn't only great when playing weak, innocent characters. The ferocity of Adams' character here is key, because it's the strength that helps drive the protagonist, the man she's fallen in love with, to triumph. In the same way, the ferocity of Adams' performance is one of the factors that elevate a pedestrian movie like The Fighter into something worth seeing.
Review of THE FIGHTER: http://www.listal.com/viewentry/789857
6.62. Casey Affleck
As Lou Ford in THE KILLER INSIDE ME
I think I'm very much in the minority here. Some of the people whose reviews of The Killer Inside Me I read weren't thrilled at all with Affleck's work in the lead role here, but I was more than thrilled. Affleck's character goes from docile to maniacal in more than one scene, and the transition proves constantly impressive and easy to believe. Affleck says a lot in his performances through mere subtle facial expressions, and I can't wait to see his next film.
Review of THE KILLER INSIDE ME: http://www.listal.com/viewentry/648364
73. Annette Bening
As Nic in THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
Despite the fact that I thought THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT was good-but-terribly-overrated, let there be no doubt about the greatness of Bening's performance in the film. In fact, I've watched the film twice, and I think my desire for the second viewing was simply to take a second look at how nuanced and perfect her work is here. There's a particular scene that has stuck with me in which her character, Nic, is just sitting there at the table not saying anything, while her girlfriend Jules is talking about the projects she's been working on. Watch Bening in this scene, the way she twitches her mouth, smiles nervously and nods skeptically as Julianne Moore's character talks, and tell me that's not fantastic acting. Her character has no lines of dialogue in that particular moment, yet she says a million things to us in a matter of seconds.
Review of THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT: http://www.listal.com/viewentry/642362
7.84. Robert Duvall
As Felix Bush in GET LOW
Duvall sure as heck deserved an Oscar nomination for his work in GET LOW, and was snubbed because of how small the film is, and because it had a somewhat early release date. He deserves it not because he's an old veteran who may not have that many films left in him, but because of his emotionally devastating work in this film. GET LOW could've been a short, 15-minute film that consisted only of the monologue that Duvall's character delivers during the final act, and that alone would be worth citing the actor for his work in it.
Review of GET LOW: http://www.listal.com/viewentry/642344
6.85. Jesse Eisenberg
As Mark Zuckerberg in THE SOCIAL NETWORK
With apologies to Colin Firth (and his zealots), THIS was the best male performance of 2010, in what was easily the movie of the year. When I cited Eisenberg last year for his heart-wrenching turn in Adventureland, I went on a rant about how pissed off it makes me that so many people make the mistake of comparing him to Michael Cera, when in fact, there is NOTHING to compare: they don't look alike, they don't play the same characters, and Eisenberg is a more skilled performer. Thankfully, now that Eisenberg has gotten a wallop of recognition for his work as Mark Zuckerberg, I trust that the unfounded comparisons will come to an end, and people will realize he's in a whole other league. Eisenberg's line delivery in The Social Network is pure brilliance. He takes what could've easily been a severely annoying character and turns him into the perfect anti-hero. The performance has no interest in aping the real Mark Zuckerberg. What the performance does is simply help further along the point that the film is making: that the website that is currently dominating social masses was, ironically, created by someone who is socially inept. With his performance, Eisenberg (who, like me, doesn't even have Facebook in real life) warns us that if we continue letting something like Facebook make us lose so much of our social humanity, we're all going to become exactly like the character he portrays.
Review of THE SOCIAL NETWORK: http://www.listal.com/viewentry/682440
86. Colin Firth
As King George VI in THE KING'S SPEECH
Well, I didn't really need to do THAT MUCH apologizing in the previous note, because I certainly DID think Firth's performance was very much worth naming here. I have to admit that I wasn't as roused by The King's Speech as most people were. I did like it, and thought the acting and art direction were terrific, but the truth is that it's a pretty typical underdog story, and nothing else to really write home about. I didn't review it, because if I find that I don't have "enough to say" about a movie (or more than a paragraph, at least), then I simply don't write anything. But the same can't be said for Firth's performance - one could write a lot about his impressive work in this film. His depiction of the fear of public speaking is simply brilliant. As someone who is just as afraid of speaking in front of a crowd, I could relate so easily to the paranoia on Firth's eyes as he stuttered and muttered his way through his attempts at delivering speeches, and that's a testament to the authenticity of his acting.
7.67. James Franco
As Allen Ginsberg in HOWL...
... and as Aron Ralston in 127 HOURS
The Oscars and other precursors will only cite Franco for his work in 127 Hours, as the adventurous mountain climber who gets stuck in a physically dire situation, and they won't recognize him for his work as beat poet Allen Ginsberg in Howl (which is the better film, contrary to what critics will tell you). Both performances are astounding in their own way. In the first film, Franco has to carry the entirety of the film's boulder-weight on his shoulders. When you can't keep your eyes off an actors' performance despite the fact that the camera is on him the entire time, that's highly impressive. In the more unfamiliar Howl, there are some scenes that are meant to be interviews of the poet (as though it were a documentary), and Franco's unabashed honesty during those scenes makes you forget it's Franco on screen. We just see Ginsberg. If that's not enough, Franco's recitation of some of Ginsberg's poems alone is worth the admission price.
Review of 127 HOURS: http://www.listal.com/viewentry/779906
7.48. Andrew Garfield
As Eduardo Saverin in THE SOCIAL NETWORK
When you're playing a supporting role, but your character serves as the film's emotional epicenter, there's a lot resting on you. Before watching The Social Network, I had no doubt that Garfield would do an excellent job here, because I had seen his magnificent performance in 2008's Boy A. Everyone else was talking about how they didn't know who this guy was and how they wondered whether or not he'd make a good Spider-Man, while I already knew that he was a great choice for the part. The Social Network's emotional oomph during its last act comes thanks to the betrayal that Eduardo suffers, and Garfield handles this with incredible finesse. The climactic scene in which Eduardo breaks Mark's laptop and nearly has a fist fight with Sean Parker could've easily had Garfield going over the top, but that doesn't even come close to happening.
8.29. Ryan Gosling
As Dean in BLUE VALENTINE
You've met the character who Gosling plays in this film. He's the 30-year-old who's still stuck in goofiness and hasn't really grown up yet and doesn't have much of an interest in taking things seriously. But that hardly makes him unlikable. In a film as heartfelt and painful as Blue Valentine, Gosling makes it believable that one could fall in love with someone like Dean, despite all his flaws. His performance during the film's final few minutes (when the emotions explode and splatter all over the place) makes Blue Valentine close with a sense of utter devastation. You can't ask much more than that from a dramatic performance.
Review of BLUE VALENTINE: http://www.listal.com/viewentry/805688
7.210. Melissa Leo
As Alice Ward in THE FIGHTER
Anyone can play a villain mother. We've seen them in tons of movies. What's hard to do is for an actress to avoid just playing unabashed evil, and to instead give us a mixture of good intentions with ill-conceived ways to accomplish them. Leo's character in The Fighter loves all the children she has, but she hasn't been taught how to love them. The fact that the actress manages to get that across to us and lets us sympathize with her rather than simply despise her as an unrealistic villain with no redeeming qualities is impressive.
7.811. Chloe Moretz
As Mindy McCready/Hit Girl in KICK-ASS...
... and as Abby in LET ME IN
As far as child actresses are concerned this year, everyone is talking about Hailee Steinfeld's performance in True Grit. I already expressed my feelings on that subject in my review of that film. For some reason, the child actress who I simply can't get out of my head this year is little Moretz. Talk about two completely different performances, both of which are thoroughly impressive. As over-the-top a role as her Hit Girl in Kick-Ass is, we don't stop believing for a second that she's like a deadly viper. But what impresses me even more is that, though she plays a vampire in Let Me In, there's really no aggressiveness or ferocity in that film's performance because, despite what the film is about, it's a more sullen and subtle cinematic piece, and Moretz acts accordingly. The range of emotions she displays as the lead in Let Me In is a sure-fire sign that this girl will excel greatly at complicated dramatic roles. I look forward to seeing her in a few of those soon.
Review of KICK-ASS: http://www.listal.com/viewentry/648345
Review of LET ME IN: http://www.listal.com/viewentry/729426
8.112. Natalie Portman
As Nina Sayers in BLACK SWAN
I hate when it's impossible to avoid including "obvious" choices on a list, but this was leaps and bounds the best performance by a female this year. This is innocence and paranoia played to perfection. Portman's performance is what makes Black Swan soar to the levels it does. The film may not always do an effective job at cluing us into what's happening to the protagonist, but her bravura work constantly makes it impossible to look away from Nina. Portman is in every scene of the film and her performance never ceases to be emotionally incisive and devastating.
Review of BLACK SWAN: http://www.listal.com/viewentry/770302
7.513. Ryan Reynolds
As Paul Conroy in BURIED
Buried proves something that I think I had already discovered in 2009 when I saw Adventureland: that Ryan Reynolds made a mistake in starting out his career making crappy comedies instead of making serious dramas. The latter genre is a much better suit for him. His face is on screen the entire time in Buried, and the film's impact depends completely on his staggering performance. He delivers fiercely.
Review of BURIED: http://www.listal.com/viewentry/765233
7.614. Naomi Watts
As Elizabeth in MOTHER AND CHILD
I hate the fact that 2010 was generally a bad year for Watts. There's obviously some bias involved in my saying this, but because she's my favorite actress, I WANT her to make good movies. Woody Allen's You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger was an awful, lifeless excuse of a comedy that gave her no room to shine. Fair Game had its moments, but that film's dastardly forced final act is enough to eclipse any of the film's good qualities (including Watts' acting). And then there's Mother and Child, a very good film, and the only one in which Watts was able to (once again) show us how fantastic she is at portraying thoroughly flawed characters.
Review of MOTHER AND CHILD: http://www.listal.com/viewentry/642367
7.215. Michelle Williams
As Cindy in BLUE VALENTINE
Because we're shown alternating time periods during Blue Valentine, Williams essentially has to play two characters in the film: the hopeful, ecstatic girl who has a great future ahead of her, and the dissatisfied wife who resents her husband severely for not exploiting his own potential and for not letting her exploit hers. Williams does both jobs incredibly well. The scene at the abortion clinic is so raw and painful, and it's all thanks to her perfect work.
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