Favorite performances of 2012 (alphabetical order)
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As Tony Mendez in Argo
Affleck will rightly get dozens of accolades this year for his direction of Argo, which is one of the most universally well-liked films of the year. And he deserves them- he's managed to establish himself as "The Next Great Director" in the eyes of many, after directing only three movies. I've never thought too highly of his acting (and a look at the "Listal tags" on his page leads me to think I'm not alone in that), but the focus on the greatness of his directorial efforts in Argo overlooks the fact that he also gave a terrific lead performance that I found had a surprising amount of humility to it. Affleck could've directed himself to play his character really aggressively or to overplay the hero card, but instead, we see flaws and vulnerability at every turn.
As Maya in Zero Dark Thirty
Zero Dark Thirty is a great film that does a lot of things in its two hours and 40 minutes. But one thing it does not do is give its lead star any help in terms of emotional background. We never get the expected scene in which Maya talks to her mom on the phone or in which she gets to visit her boyfriend. The plot gives Chastain nothing in that regard- it's entirely up to her to get us to connect with her. But Chastain has so much fire in her eyes throughout the entirety of the running time that there's no way we never believe Maya's fortitude and commitment to the goal she's been trying to achieve. She's in almost every scene of the film, but she never says much, because she doesn't have to. Chastain is one of only two actors on this list who also made last year's list, and I won't be surprised if I find myself listing her more in future years.
As Pat Solitano, Sr. in Silver Linings Playbook
With all due respect to Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, the performance that spoke to me the most in one of the more overrated films of the year was Robert de Niro's turn as the OCD Pat, Sr. The several scenes in which his character looks like he's literally going to lose it because things aren't happening precisely as he wants them to are among the film's best comedic moments. But most importantly, there's a great moment in Silver Linings Playbook in which Pat, Sr. sits on the bed while his son is still half-asleep, and all of his pent-up emotions start pouring out. (You'll have to excuse me, but I enjoyed this scene more than the ridiculously contrived scene in which Tiffany shows up knowing the scores from all the games- I prefer emotional honesty over silly plot machinations) This is the scene that makes him absolutely deserve the best supporting actor nomination. It's been a while since we've seen de Niro be so great.
As Hannah in Your Sister's Sister
DeWitt isn't a very well-known actress, because she frequently appears in independent projects, and for some reason (at least from what I've seen), she's always playing supporting roles and not lead. That's exactly the case with her raw and honest turn in Your Sister's Sister. It's worth noting that Rachel Weisz was originally cast for this role, and DeWitt had very little time to prepare for it, and she managed to do wonders with the character in spite of that.
As Kenneth in Safety Not Guaranteed
For the past three years or so, Duplass has been directing, writing and acting in a bunch of projects that I've highly appreciated and that have spoken very much to my taste and sensibilities. For that reason, I'm really overjoyed to finally be able to include him in one of these lists. Based on what I've seen of his demeanor in interviews, it seems he usually plays a version of himself in movies... except in Safety Not Guaranteed, where he absolutely shocked me, tackling the tough task of turning someone whom many would consider to fit the "creepy guy" profile into someone for whom we can care about deeply. It occurs to me that there were several moments in Safety Not Guaranteed in which one could've dismissed the film's premise as silly, if it weren't for the fact that we're able to constantly believe in Kenneth.
As Mark O'Brien in The Sessions
Hawkes' performance could've wallowed in melodrama, smarminess, mawkishness, and all the other pitfalls into which The Sessions could've easily fallen. It's easy for any actor to say "hey, I played a mentally retarded person, or a physically handicapped person... now give me an Oscar!" And the sad part is that that usually works. But Hawkes doesn't coast on that. His performance is a great and heart-wrenching one, and he totally anchors the movie.
As Cheryl in The Sessions
Yes, in case you haven't figured it out, I think the acting in The Sessions was phenomenal. What Helen Hunt has to do is very different from what her co-star has to do, but she handles it beautifully, and clearly without any shame or reservations about baring it all. It's great to see her again.
As Marie Antoinette in Farewell, My Queen
When you find yourself wanting to see more and more of a secondary character in a movie, you know the actor is doing something right. While Kruger plays the title character in Farewell, My Queen, the film's focus isn't actually on her, which is too bad, because Kruger is terrific. There's a sensuality and an emotional ambiguity that is rarely accomplished by other actors who tackle roles like this one.
As Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games
All the praise and all of the nominations for Lawrence's acting talent this year will be directed at her turn in Silver Linings Playbook, because that's the more Oscar-y movie, and because it's the one that was released closer to the end of the year. While I think she's really good in Playbook, I can't say it's a performance that gives her room to demonstrate a lot of range. She gets to do a lot of blank stares and angry stares, which is of course part of the character's psychological problems, but I think that, in a better movie, it's the kind of performance that could've been unforgettable. The Hunger Games, on the other hand, gave Lawrence the chance to negotiate ferocity and vulnerability, a task that she accomplished to absolute perfection. When I make these lists, I consider every film I saw and every performance I saw, and I don't limit myself to remembering what came out in the last two months. The Hunger Games came out in March, but that is the Jennifer Lawrence performance that has been seared into my memory.
As Joe in Killer Joe
Never, ever did I expect that Matthew McConaughey would make one of these lists. But that's not all. If I had to give out an award for "best performer" overall of the year, McConaughey may very well be the one who deserves it because, aside from his hilarious, terrifying, deliciously wicked turn in Killer Joe, he was also very good in both Bernie and Magic Mike (and I still need to see The Paperboy). Killer Joe isn't on my list of favorite films of the year (though it came close to getting an honorable mention), but thanks to McConaughey, I guarantee that, of all the scenes of any 2012 film, it's one from Killer Joe that I'll have the hardest time ever forgetting. With apologies to Leonardo DiCaprio, this here is the best villain performance of the year.
As Patrick, sometimes not-so-affectionately known as "Nothing" in The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Possibly the funniest character of the year, and certainly my favorite character of the year, Patrick is that rare type of character who makes audience members smile every time he shows up on screen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower has absolutely no trouble being an entertaining film throughout every single one of its frames, but the fun and hilarity tend to reach astronomical levels whenever Patrick is on screen. Miller is the other of the two actors on this list who also made last year's list (no, it wasn't for We Need to Talk About Kevin last year). This is one of those cases where, before I even saw the movie and I read who his character was, I was certain he'd play it to perfection, having been witness to his excellent comedic chops in both City Island and Another Happy Day. But the fact that I expected it didn't make the performance any less delightful.
As Alma Reville in Hitchcock
When we got out of watching Hitchcock, my friend commented that she felt the film could've easily been titled Alma. I'm not so sure I'd go that far, but I do think that the always great Helen Mirren played the "woman behind the man" role amazingly well here. If the film has an emotional epicenter, it's definitely in Alma, and that's all thanks to Mirren.
As Billy in Seven Psychopaths
Snort and laugh all you want. This is who I'd give the Best Actor to. This is a work of genius. This is fucking awesome. If Seven Psychopaths doesn't retain its maddening greatness throughout the entirety of its running time, the same can't be said for Rockwell's performance, as he totally loses himself in the insanity, the randomness and the absent-mindedness, and not for a second is his work anything short of a riot to watch.
As Maria in The Impossible
The majestic Naomi Watts (yes, majestic) is my all-time favorite actress. But I wouldn't include her on this list simply for that reason alone, even if it helps. The Impossible has a tendency to be emotionally manipulative, but it's easy to forget about that when Watts is on screen. When she looks at the child actors who play her sons in the movie, the look on her face reminds me of the way my mom has looked at me in the past whenever she's gotten emotional and/or wanted to communicate her love for me with a look. That's the very definition of a performance deeply connecting with you emotionally, and it's no surprise that Watts does it effortlessly.
The way I assess performances has more to do with how much the actor connected with me and/or had an impact on me than on actual acting talent, which I find to be a very subjective thing, anyway. This list happens to consist of 14 people, of which 7 are men and 7 are women, but that's entirely a coincidence and not something I did on purpose. I, um, also just realized that everyone on this list is white... which seems wrong... but well, this is just how the list honestly turned out, and you can check out my previous years' acting lists and you'll see that, in those lists, I didn't do equal gender amounts and/or race exclusivity. This list just reflects the truth in terms of the performances that spoke to me the most this year.
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