Friday, February 18, 2011

Best of 2010, part 3: Acting

Here we are again. Today is all about acting, and, since I'm sure I don't need to define acting for you fine people, we'll get right to it. Here are the best performances of 2010.
I'll try to include clips of every performance, but no guarantees.

5. Colin Firth-The King's Speech
Funny story here. I'm not a huge fan of this performance, but this year suffered an ungodly dry spell of interesting performances in lead roles (of the movies I've seen anyway. I am missing quite a few films which reputedly feature great male performances). Still, I needed five, so Colin Firth stammers his way in. It's not a great performance, but it's a heartfelt one, and Firth hits all his emotional beats well. It's not a virtuoso performance on the level of A Single Man, but it's certainly passable in its own right.

4. Jesse Eisenberg-The Social Network
I love how internalized this performance is. I'm not sure Eisenberg raises his voice throughout the movie, nor does his body language ever seem anything less than restrained. This quiet, bound up approach is absolutely vital for The Social Network's take on Mark Zuckerberg. Instead of portraying him as a charismatic innovator or a stereotypical antihero, Jesse Eisenberg creates a quiet, frustrated little boy who stumbles into billions. Watching him morph from grumpy college boy to confused kid pretending to be an adult is fascinating.

3. Jeff Bridges-True Grit
This performance is sort of Crazy Heart: The Early Years, but I love it anyway. Admittedly, stumbling alcoholic is ground that Bridges has covered before, but he does it delightfully well. In True Grit, he infuses his performance with something woefully lacking from Crazy Heart: humor. Rooster Cogburn may be a burnout, but try telling him that to his face. This tongue-in-cheek self-importance lends the character some version of wounded dignity, which lends his legitimate fear and empathy for young Mattie Ross startling poignancy.

2. Ryan Gosling-Blue Valentine
Ryan Gosling had to play two different people in this movie: an excited young man with his whole life ahead of him, and the same man, four years later, who's had his optimism beaten out of him, but is still trying to hold onto the past. It's an interesting thing, having to play yourself four years older: it's not a large-enough time period to really affect you physically, four years of hardship have still changed who you are. Gosling's bravura performance finds the common threads between his younger and older selves, and exploits them to devastating effect. We can see both the young and the old man occupying the same space, and it's heartbreaking.

1. James Franco-127 Hours
(Best I can get is the trailer:
127 Hours is absolutely a one-man show. Without James Franco, there's no movie. And if his performance had fallen flat, the movie would have been unbearable. Lightning struck, though, and Franco gives a performance that's completely engrossing. He creates a fully realized, all-too recognizable individual; a man whose overconfidence isn't too much to be off-putting, but enough to get him into trouble. Watching this man, pinned under a rock, slowly come to terms with his own death, and his subsequent determination to avoid it, is extraordinary. Franco's screen presence is nothing less than magnetic.

Horable mention: Ryan Reynold's justifiably upset truck-driver in Buried

Best Actress
5. Emma Stone-Easy A
Sure, some people might be confused by a performance in a lightweight high-school comedy getting in over other, meatier parts, but I don't care. Emma Stone takes this movie, rips it apart, refashions it, and wears it on her chest. She owns the whole damn film. And rightfully so: her performance is effortlessly light and physical, her timing is perfect, and she brings a perfect sort of winking naivete to the proceedings. This is the very definition of a star-making turn: after this movie, Emma Stone's going to drown in role offers.

4. Annette Bening-The Kids Are All Right
I love the clip here, because it's just about the only time Annette Bening allows her character to be vulnerable. And even then, she spends the whole time pushing her feelings down and moving on. Her character always has to feel in control of her emotions, even when the world conspires to push them to the forefront. Bening is tough and assertive; almost too assertive, as if she wants to become the father figure that her children don't have. And then, when her grouchy exterior is finally violated, her lonely vulnerability is all too believable.

3. Michelle Williams-Blue Valentine
Like her on-screen partner Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams has to play two people throughout the course of the movie. Where Gosling's character was two version of the same person, however, Williams' character is two completely different individuals. The four years that pass during the movie exact a harsh toll on the younger, naive version, and turn her into a world-weary slave to her job and her marriage. Williams' transformation is astounding; her moments of realizing that she can never get back the love she's lost for her husband stick out in my memory.

2. Julianne Moore-The Kids Are All Right
Where Annette Bening is too tough and cold, Julianne Moore is a whirling dervish free spirit. She's trying so hard to be fun and cool and open, she's forgetting to be a real person. She's loving, but sometimes glaringly immature; many of her conversations are punctuated by petulant little asides. Still, her loneliness and her marital dissatisfaction are honestly and expertly portrayed. She manages to look like a victim, even as she acts in ways that threaten her entire family.

1. Natalie Portman-Black Swan
(believe it or not, the best I can get is a trailer.
Nina just wants to be perfect. Sure, she's nuts, emotionally unstable, violent, and bi-curious, but hey. To play this role, Natalie Portman had to hit pretty much every high and low in the spectrum of human emotion. Then she had to do it while dancing. Portman trained for months to be able to dance for the film. Her Nina is an emotionally sheltered little girl whose world slowly opens up to reveal all the things that go bump in the dark as Nina transforms herself into a woman and a swan. That final dialogue-less closeup: right before the end, while she's in her dressing-room, fixing her makeup, is alone worthy of an Oscar.

Honorable Mention: Nicole Kidman's fragile, slowly imploding mother in Rabbit Hole

Supporting Actor
5. Jeremy Renner-The Town
Violent, angry, and twitching with nervous energy, Renner is a perfect ball of manic gleeful energy. Points for the stressed brotherly relationship he sells with Affleck.

4. Josh Hutcherson-The Kids Are All Right
Though he's only 18, Hutcherson holds his own with far more practiced thespians, effortlessly capturing the emotional roller-coaster of wanting a father figure, finding one, and realizing that he's kind of a dick.

3. Ben Mendelsohn-Animal Kingdom
(no clip, and the trailer doesn't really feature him...Sorry!)
The second-best villain of the year. Mendelsohn's Pope can only be described as a sociopath: cold, calculating, not really there. His stare is almost too blank. It's unnerving.

2. Christian Bale-The Fighter
Christian Bale plays a strung-out junkie whose one shot at legitimacy and fame has passed. He holds on to that one memory while slowly strangling the life from those around him. Bale is energetic, charismatic, completely alive: in his eyes however, lingers just the right flash of bitterness and hate.

1. Andrew Garfield-The Social Network
It was a nail-biter between Garfield and Bale, but, in the end, Garfield's kicked puppy won out. Garfield's goofy energy, his Hardy Boys-style fundraising, and his confused, bitter betrayal make for some of the best scenes of the year.

Honorable Mention: Geoffrey Rush's amusingly cavalier speech therapist in The King's Speech

Supporting Actress
5. Mila Kunis-Black Swan
Strong, self-assured, sensual: everything Nina's not. Mila Kunis plays the real-life Black Swan, and pulls it off with smoky intensity.

4. Amy Adams-The Fighter
Loving and supportive, but tough as nails. Adams' blunt realism is a nice foil for the more optimistic worlds that the other characters inhabit.

3. Lesley Manville-Another Year
(Only a trailer, sorry:
Achingly vulnerable, lying to herself incessantly, and drinking too much, Lesley Manville provides a far more interesting story than the actual plot. One keeps hoping that the movie will give up and follow her around instead.

2. Melissa Leo-The Fighter
Melissa Leo chews the scenery with frantic intensity; she's a loud-mouthed mother to a changeling brood of well-haired spawn, and she loves it. Leo plays her like a Lady Macbeth in way over her head.

1. Jacki Weaver-Animal Kingdom
The best villain of the year, and the craziest mother as well, which was no mean feat, given this year's movie-obsession with overbearing mommies. Jacki Weaver is sunny, outgoing, friendly, and also the cold-blooded head of a crime-family. She does everything thinkable (and unthinkable) to protect her boys, and she does it with a smile on her face.

Honorable Mention: Marion Cotillard's vengeful dead spouse in Inception.

Well, there we have it. Tomorrow I post the tech awards, and on Sunday I'll wrap up with my dream Oscar ballot. Groovy!

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