Friday, 30 December 2011

The 25 Best Performances in 2011, Part 1

Now to the movies, let us commence...

25) Matthew McConaughey, The Lincoln Lawyer

The thing about doing lists like this is, it would be quite easy to just slot three or four performances from The King's Speech or Black Swan and walk away. But making a bad film into a good purely on the back of your performance deserves just as much recognition, and rarely seems to get it. McConaughey may be pretty much a punch line at this point, but when he finds it within himself to give a shit, he probably has the most natural movie star charisma around and watching him find a groove again after years of increasingly odious romantic comedies was very, very entertaining.

24) Joseph Gordon Levitt, 50/50

The latest step in JGL's path to world domination was more evidence that he's probably the closest we have to this generation's James Stewart, someone who can just exude likeability in any role, in any situation yet not make it feel false or overly sentimental. I think 50/50 was a movie that could have easily fallen apart without such a steadfast presence at its centre, but this was very much a coming of age role for JGL.

23) Andy Serkis, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes

Serkis' second performance as CGI primate was yet more evidence that he's one of the most talented actors who's face we never get see. Apes was one of those pleasant surprise movies that come along once and again, where everything about it says it should suck and somehow it doesn't. And I think a lot of that was Serkis, who takes his 'Birth of man' arc and runs with it. How about we let this guy act without the mo-cap suit now, huh?

22) William Fichtner, Drive Angry

Drive Angry had a rough-house charm and ingenuity about it that would make so many B movies so much more enjoyable. And it's not even an off the hinge Nicolas Cage performance that saves the day here, and if anything Cage takes second fiddle to character actor William Fichtner's moment in the sun, his 'Accountant' a villain out of a better movie, full of charm and awesome, lending smarts and a sense of humour to a film that probably didn't deserve either. It's just a shame Fichtner wasted this performance on a film that the human race doesn't and arguably shouldn't have the capacity to take seriously.

21) John Boyega, Attack The Block

Attack The Block was so much better for not being the super-ironic, condescending piss-take it almost had to be, and instead invested real care and emotion into the characterization of the hoodies who were fighting the aliens. None more so than Moses, played with a calm, commanding authority by Boyega. A performance of the type that makes one a star instantaneously, it reminded of Kurt Russell in The Thing or Vin Diesel in Pitch Black. Horror films can work a treat with a beacon of charisma at their centre, and Boyega really did provide that here.

20) Tilda Swinton, We Need To Talk About Kevin

We Need To Talk About Kevin is a story that has academia written all over it, and when you take it in you can almost imagine the scent of the creative writing classroom in which it came into being. Having said that, I enjoyed this film in spite of its faults, and Swinton is perfectly designed for a movie about existential maternal dread. 

19) Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

People really liked them some Animal Kingdom, and I don't really begrudge them that. It's a good movie, it's just to me it was a lot of people accused Drive of being. A film with not really that much to say, and used shaky camera-work for us to not notice all the gang-family cliches. One thing I can get on board with though, is the terrifically rendered performance by Jacki Weaver as the family matriarch. 

18) Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole

Movies about dead kids tend not to be the best, maybe they exploit the weight of the tragedy as a back door way to resonance, or maybe they get caught up too much in their thematic bluster, but Rabbit Hole to m, felt like a specific, detailed and honest version of the story, and Kidman gives one of her better performance of recent years here, reminding people who've perhaps forgotten just how good she can be.

17) Michael Shannon, Take Shelter

Shannon is in the midst of one of those Kevin Spacey alike transitions from character actor to movie star. Someone whose acting is so good, it elevates him to A list status. It's rare these to see a Michael Shannon film and have him be anything but the best part of it, and in this quiet, thoughtful film he's fantastic as an every-man seeing visions of the end of the world.

16) Elena Anaya, The Skin I Live In

I think Anaya had to do most of the heavy lifting in this film, with lead Antonio Banderas' showier, less defined role not having anywhere near the same level of impact. It's a difficult role that required a smart, dignified performance and Anaya provides it in spades. The heart of the movie.

15) Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech

2011 award season saw me sort of declare war on The King's Speech, because for all it's competence and expediency, the over-praise it received went to show how our definition for what a masterpiece is has changed, gone are the days when it meant something that redefined, something that challenged. Now it's just giving us what we expect in the way we expect it, and however well one may execute that, to me there's so much less value in it. Regardless. No-one's going to argue with the strength of the performances, and Geoffrey Rush's speech lends this film whatever non-formulaic soul it possesses.

14) Gary Oldman, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

This fantastically put together movie was probably was about as good as it could have been considering the material, and Oldman, playing somewhat against type, convinces as the intelligence community's greatest detective, and his under-playing of the material gives the film it's gravitas.

13) Viola Davis, The Help

I didn't like The Help all that much, over-simplification of a complex issue and all that, but Viola Davis was undeniably excellent, and I won't have any resentment when she wins the best supporting actress oscar in february. It's deserved, it's just one wishes that the rest of the film was up to that level of quality.

12) Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids

This is one of the comedic performances that just sort of jumps off the screen. It's super broad, but McCarthy sort rises above what she's given throughout, so when she gets the one scene toward the film where her character gets to be an actual human being, it just kills. Quite possibly the funniest performance of the year.

11) Brendan Gleeson, The Guard

Another one of those, the movie isn't great but the performance is type deals. The Guard was sort of an ineffectual, incoherent mess, but by casting Gleeson in the lead role they pulled themselves out of a pretty deep hole. Gleeson's performance in this reminds of Humphrey Bogart in that the effortless cool and intelligence Gleeson displays improves the experience tenfold, so even if the movie isn't the best, the performance locks so much of its shit down, it almost doesn't matter.

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