It has been over two weeks without a post from yours truly and I figured I needed to close the year in proper blogging fashion. Being that I will NOT be posting a best films of 2013 list before the end of the solar year, I thought I would gather my thoughts to share my favorite acting performances of the last five years.
First, I will give you my favorite 10 male performances in alphabetical order followed, in a couple of days, by my 10 favorite female roles of the half-decade from 2009 to 2013 (warning: blind spots in 2013 abound!)
As usual, I expect discerning tastes, and I would love to hear some recommendations as to whom should have made my list.
CHRISTOPH WALTZ - Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Colonel Hans Landa is Tarantino’s most deliciously evil creation, a character brought to life by a then unknown German soap opera actor, a certain Christoph Waltz who would go on to win the Oscar for this once-in-a-lifetime performance.
Waltz’ strength lies in his diction, which he uses in a precise and impeccable manner that combined with plenty of devilish charm, creates a character that draws you in. As soon as Waltz comes into the picture in the film’s first scene, we can’t get enough of him, and we miss whenever he is not on the screen, no matter how horrific his actions as Landa may be.
COLIN FIRTH - The King’s Speech (2010)
When Colin Firth took on the role of King George VI, he inhabited the role of the famed King and was no longer visible as an actor interpreting a part. He had become the stuttering monarch who, despite all odds, was able to inspire a nation when faced with the unavoidable prospect of war.
DENIS LAVANT - Holy Motors (2012)
Never have I seen an actor deliver such a complex array of characters that are as diverging to each other as they are entertaining to watch. Denis Lavant plays an old lady asking for money as convincingly as he plays a thug, a vagrant, a frustrated single father, or a martial artist moving gracefully in a motion-capture studio. It is a showcase to the many talents of an actor who can simply do no wrong and who remains appealing and engaging even when he is playing a dying old man.
GARY OLDMAN - Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)
Gary Oldman’s lead role as George Smiley in the film adaptation of the famous play is nothing short of remarkable. For Oldman, playing a man of great intelligence is nothing new, having played clever police commissioners and exacting criminals in the past. However, with Smiley, Oldman is as effortlessly cool as he has ever been, truly becoming the wise and composed master spy who deciphers the intricacies of a complex spy network that has infiltrated the high command of the British intelligence. Oldman’s Smiley is the kind of methodical man you want heading such an institution.
JEAN DUJARDIN - The Artist (2011)
Dujardin is an actor for a different epoch. His eloquent and radiant smile, his broad shoulders, his classic mustache, the tenderness of his eyes and the fluidity of his movements seem perfectly tailored for silent film.
There is simply no one else that could have done what Dujardin did with George Valentin in The Artist. An Oscar statuette for Best Actor that is fully deserved.
JOHN HAWKES - Winter’s Bone (2010)
Opposite Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes’ Teardrop is a perfectly believable dirt-poor Appalachian hillbilly that sounds, looks and behaves like one. Not once do we see the actor playing the part, but a performer that became invisible once he started going through his lines.
MAX RECORDS - Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
Most of the success of the emotionally surreal Where the Wild Things Are rests on the very capable shoulders of the prodigious acting gifts of Max Records. Here is a kid who is expressing great emotional depth as if he knows exactly what it feels to be lonely, misunderstood and even depressed.
The display might not be the most layered or nuanced of the list, but it is certainly the most impressive given Records’ young years.
MICHAEL FASSBENDER – Shame (2011)
Seeing the emotional breakdown of Michael Fassbender as Brandon in Steve McQueen’s Shame is a thing to behold.
This performance is raw, layered and devastating. Fassbender develops a character that hints at frailty and loneliness without much to show for it. He portrays Brandon as a person who leads a life of excess not because he wants to, but because he can and does not know what else to do. To bring this to fruition required a great deal of talent, the kind that Fassbender shows in almost every role he takes.
Probably my favorite performance of the last ten years.
MICHAEL SHANNON - Take Shelter (2011)
I was slightly disappointed with Take Shelter. I found the film to be predictable and more about the final twist than the path of the story to get to it. If Take Shelter is somewhat close to being “great” is because of Michael Shannon’s dazzlingly intense performance as Curtis, a man who has apocalyptic visions and must decide whether to put his family through the ordeal or ignore his instincts.
Shannon plays the confused and troubled man with ease, making us feel the weight of all of his choices and the enormity of the consequences of his actions. This is a performance-centered film that completely relies, and rightfully so, on the acting gifts of its lead.
PATTON OSWALT – Young Adult (2011)
It is difficult to upstage an actress of the beauty and talent of Charlize Theron. In fact, I can’t remember it ever happening in the case of Charlize except in Young Adult opposite Patton Oswalt. The performance is all the more surprising given Oswalt’s career, which is filled with very superficial, or even silly comedic characters.
Oswalt delivers a character that is scarred, lonely and devastatingly longing for human contact. When Mavis Gary comes into Matt Freehauf‘s life he accepts most of her abuse and insensitivity because he is desperate to find love, even if his feelings are misplaced. Oswalt’s performance feels sincere, coming from a very real and troubled part of his soul.