10) Rainn Wilson, Super
9) Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids
Prior to this film, I wasn't the hugest fan of Kristen Wiig. What I've seen of her SNL stuff I haven't particularly liked, and her various supporting roles in movies haven't been exactly to my taste either, but I thought she and this movie just killed, perhaps for the main reason that she toned herself down and played a real, credible human being and consequently was much funnier and engaging for it. A great performance by any definition.
8) Christian Bale, The Fighter
The Fighter certainly fits Hollywood's new definition for what a great, award winning movie should be, that is a story we've seen a million times over put together well and starring big name actors, but I'd say amongst the cliches are some terrific performances, as there usually are, but none more so than Christian Bale whose junkie ex-boxer won him a deserved Oscar.
7) Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
While I think True Grit represents a sort of the moment where the Cone Brothers lost a bit of their agency, it's a terrifically realized and directed movie. And Hailee Steinfeld's central performance is nothing short of a revelation, not only holding her own against the likes of Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin, but arguably eclipsing them.
6) Kirsten Dunst, Melancholia
The thing about Von Trier is, I'm not really going to dispute the accusations of misogyny, because I don't really think you can. Not entirely anyway, but at the same time it's sort of equally indisputable that he gets career best, astonishing work from every actress who works with him, and there's certainly no exception with Kirsten Dunst, an actress who's never really done much to distinguish herself talent wise in a 15 year movie career. She's not even the best performance in the movie, but it is still pretty incredible what he gets out of her here.
5) Brad Pitt, Tree Of Life
Being a film student, it's sort of inevitable that I know the kind of people who thought this was some flawless masterpiece for the ages, and while it's probably the most ambitious film to be released at a cinema in my lifetime, that doesn't mean there's not some super obnoxious and intolerable pretentiousness going on here. It probably makes up about 50% of the film, and the other 50% is magnificent, enlightening and spellbinding. Such is the trade. But Brad Pitt's performance as the disciplinarian patriarch at the head of the family the story follows is pretty incredible, and should win him that well deserved Oscar.
4) Natalie Portman, Black Swan
I like to say that this is a great movie made out of a sort of awful script, Darren Aronofsky finding an operatic grace amongst the silliness and hack. Portman factors into that too, taking a character who is mostly symbolic in her purpose and journey and making her really hit home. Perhaps its a very actorly performance, and it's more about the craft than say making you invest in her journey, but regardless, what Portman does here is pretty extraordinary.
3) Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
Blue Valentine, I imagine, could well be the kind of film that falls apart on repeat viewings. The kind that without that all-consuming emotional sweep that overwhelms you the first time, maybe begins to look a little overwrought, but having only seen it once it remains an incredible film in my mind. And Williams, who plays the every-person to Gosling's two-part caricature, is the so much more subtle, so much more haunting side of the film. When Oscar nominated Williams and not Gosling, there's been few decisions of their's I've ever agreed with more.
2) Charlotte Gainsbourg, Melancholia
Gainsbourg seems to have thrown her lot in with Von Trier at this point, and if one is just looking at hard evidence, its not all that hard to see why. Again she's utterly mesmerizing in this film, and though the more reserved character opposite Dunst, there's something about Gainsbourg, in the way she can do so much more with less that is incredibly impactful.
1) James Franco, 127 Hours
Before Franco tanked at the Oscars and began to come off like a huge douche every time he opened his mouth, he did this, a film about a man trapped under a rock, in which he gave probably the best performance anyone's given in the last couple of years. It's the kind of performance that functions in both the big and small, and altogether he made this film a must see, when it quite easily could have been slightly tedious.