Top 5 Lead Performances (Male)
5. Shia LaBoeuf - Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
In many ways Shia's spot on this Top 5 is as much recognition for his career as a whole thus far as it is for his turn in the latest Oliver Stone film. But in actuality I really feel as if the performance as the lead in Money Never Sleeps does represent Shia nearly at his finest. I have heard many complaints against the screen presence of LaBoeuf, but the way he carries himself through the high stakes world of this film, with a powerful competence capable of standing up with the biggest dealers while still displaying those moments of vulnerability and childlike wonder, mixed with a touch of naivety. I suppose a case can be made that much of this has to do with the writing, but LaBoeuf sells it perfectly.
4. Jeff Bridges - True Grit
I debated whether or not I should put Bridges here for his role in True Grit or for his digitized update on The Dude in TRON: Legacy and I decided to go with his portrayal of Rooster in the Coen's latest. The role allows Bridges to transform once more, perfectly delivering the Coen's dialog in a nearly incomprehensible manner, with just enough grizzled enunciation to understand without harming the tattered past of the character. Bridges is a delight to watch on screen and this performance may be one of my favorites from the actor.
3. Michael Cera - Youth in Revolt
I will make no attempt to hide my admiration for just about every choice that Michael Cera makes whenever he is on a screen. While his turn in Youth in Revolt is not the brilliant display of meta-acting that he displayed when he was in Paper Heart, nor does it match the comedic prowess of his other work, but this year Michael Cera, between his two films, was probably given some of the best dialog to deliver, and the way he became Nick Twisp was mighty impressive. However, where Cera shines is in the role of Nick's alternate personality, Francoise Dillinger. It is a role that allows Cera to try different things, to become a completely different screen presence, and to interact with himself (side note: Armie Hammer should have probably been on my Best Supporting Actor List) allow him to demonstrate his talent.
2. James Franco - 127 Hours
I have not seen the unofficial companion piece to this film, Buried, so I do not know how Ryan Reynolds shoulders a film all on his own, but the way James Franco shoulders nearly the entire weight of a film on his more than competent shoulders are what really make 127 Hours a film worth watching. Franco is asked to tread a thin line between sanity and insanity, and he is able to rise to the challenge. The man brings an incredible amount of energy to the screen that not only allows the audience to care about the situation he finds himself in, but to also reach for higher truths. Also, the way he talks to the camera is awesome, and sometimes that is all you need.
1. Joaquin Phoenix - I'm Still Here
Going in to this film I was unsure what I was to expect. I know that the whole film was seemingly a hoax, so I did know that Phoenix was playing a role, and in that regard I do not think any actor had quite as great a challenge placed at his feet. What I'm Still Here then allows is for a brilliant examination of the acting process, method taken to its insane conclusion. An attempt to question the media's role in shaping perception and reality. And at the center of this is Phoenix, a startlingly compelling performance that allows him a chance to demonstrate his talent in ways that I have rarely seen. There are aspects that I am still wrestling with in regard to the legitimacy of the supporting turns in the film and how that effects the performance overall, but I suppose if individuals like Diddy and the fans were not staged, as I believe to be the case, I think that makes Phoenix's transformation all the more incredible.
Robert Pattinson - Remember Me
Zac Efron - Charlie St. Cloud
Jesse Eisenberg - The Social Network
Russel Brand - Get Him to the Greek
Top Five Lead Performances (Female)
5. Natalie Portman - Black Swan
This fifth spot was tough to determine, but when it comes down to it I think of all the performers competing for the spot it was Portman's manic display of Nina in Black Swan that has stuck with me the most. She plays extremes in the film, and it would be easy to focus on her brilliant turn in the final twenty minutes or so of the film to serve as evidence to her talent, but I was impressed when Portman had to exist in those moments of the middle. The reluctance to change, the hesitancy to engage. These moments are what add to the character and solidify Portman as one of the year's best actresses.
4. Hye-ja Kim - Mother
The performance of Hye-ja Kim in Bong Joon-ho's latest Mother is mezmerizing, both because of the calculated way in which the woman moves and because of the lengths to which she takes an already extreme character. On screen she is a rock, a ballast holding together the few shreads of hope that we have, and as the film progresses that quiet confidence in Kim's face begins to falter, but it never breaks. Her performance is so well delivered and realized, a masterclass of becoming a character.
3. Jennifer Lawrence - Winter's Bone
While I was exiting Winter's Bone I can still remember being floored by the performance of Jennifer Lawrence. She acts as child and matriarch all at once, a product of her environment and a glimmer of hope amid a view of desolation. Lawrence never needs to play just one idea, one emotion, at any given time. She needs to convey the weight of the world, and from scene to scene she effectively portrays this foundation. The maturity in her performance, it astounds me.
2. Tilda Swinton - I Am Love
I am going to not detail Tilda Swinton's fantastic, incredibly professional and actorly performance, nor will I discuss why her dedication to the role, going so far as to learn two different languages over however many years, floors me. How the subtlety in each scene, how the mood and the joys and the highs and the lows are brilliantly communicated through her face and her motions, and are only further enhanced when she speaks. No, I will briefly write that I am shocked at what I am currently writing. I have never been enamored with Swinton the way others have, I think her lauded performances are too sterile and dull, so when I saw her in I Am Love I was absolutely shocked at how well she played her character. I am also shocked that I am not listing her in my number one slot, because even in the preliminary stages of making this list she was number one. She was number one up until the point I started typing. I have nothing bad to say about this performance, it is a masterclass of acting.
1. Haillee Steinfeld- True Grit
In this list so far I have detailed some of the finest screen presences of the year. These previous four women are all unmistakable presences on screen, displays of individuals reaching the top of their craft. There are unmistakable presences on screen and then there are forces on screen. These forces are rare, they command attention every second, they make the actors around them better, they surprise and wow, but the surprise is always outweighed by the admiration and the impressive manner in which these forces occur. Each line of dialog is fully realized, delivered to perfection. Each move is calculated, but natural. There may be, for me, a few of these types of performances in a year. Sometimes we have to wait. Haillee Steinfeld is not a presence in True Grit, Haillee Steinfeld is a force.
Katie Jarvis - FISH TANK
Jullianne Moore - The Kids Are All Right
Prior to designing this list I was not sure how strong the leads were this year, and I still think there is a significant drop off from the top ten in each to the rest, especially when compared to the supporting players of 2010. Still, these top five performances in each category are so fantastic. Perhaps even the best performance of the year is found in a lead role (perhaps not, wait until I do a comprehensive blowout). Thank you to all of those actors and actresses who entertained throughout all of 2010, and here is hoping to making 2011 an equally strong, and perhaps even stronger, year.
So, any omissions? Agree or disagree? Let me know below.
Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure. Or if video games are more your thing, I have a blog dedicated to all gaming news, reviews, and opinions.
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© 2011 Richard James Thorne