Monday, December 20, 2010

Men of the year: My favorite male movie performances of 2010

I waited to compile this list until seeing "Black Swan" and "The Fighter" as a truly odd double feature last Saturday, and that day yielded one entry here I expected and one that caught me by surprise.

It's still dangerous to do it before The Dude surely abides this week in "True Grit" and without having seen the performance of Oscar favorite (if I'm reading the cards right) Colin Firth in "The King's Speech," but I'm fairly confident that with those two exceptions I've seen most of the best movies of 2010, so here goes: My favorite male performances of 2010, in order only of release date until the very end, for which I've saved my vote for the best.

Leonardo DiCaprio, "Shutter Island": Sure, Leo played pretty much the same constantly stressed out character in both this and "Inception" this year, but he was better here as FBI agent Teddy Daniels in this flick based on the Dennis Lehane novel, which is so good that it will likely end up on my overall best movies of 2010 list, too.

Ricardo Darin, "The Secret in Their Eyes": In this Argentinian film noir, Darin's character undergoes a rather epic journey, returning to both the scene of a brutal crime from his career as a legal inspector and reuniting with an unrequited but still smoldering love, and his performance carries us every step along the way.

John Hawkes, "Winter's Bone": The key to this Debra Granik movie, another film noir of sorts and, like "The Secret in Their Eyes," also shown this year by the Macon Film Guild, is the mysterious motivations of all the characters Jennifer Lawrence's Rhee Dolly encounters while searching for her missing father - and the most important of those is Hawkes' Teardrop (yes, really), who plays his cards close until the end and makes this my vote for the best movie of 2010.

Steve Carell, "Despicable Me": Can a voice-only performance really be one of the best of the year? When it's as good as Carell's as the criminal mastermind with a heart Gru, absolutely, and besides, even though "Toy Story 3" will rightly get most of the animated kudos this year, this was just a thoroughly charming flick.

Kevin Kline, "The Extra Man": I was expecting the worst from Kline in this, and so was that much more pleasantly surprised by how restrained he was as the "gentleman" Henry Harrison, whose sole job is squiring wealthy widows around NYC. Both Kline's performance and the movie overall, out now on DVD, are winning portraits of the kind of eccentric New York that's now all too rare.

Kieran Culkin, "Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World": Comedy rarely gets is just due in awards season, and for my money, no one was funnier this year than Culkin as Scott Pilgrim's gay roommate who constantly pops up to provide a snarky commentary of sorts in the best movie that virtually no one saw in 2010.

Kodi Smit-McPhee, "Let Me In": Matt Reeves' "Let Me in" would have been a completely soulless remake of the clearly superior vampire movie "Let the Right One In" if it weren't for the performances of the two kids at the story's core. McPhee and Chloe Moretz draw us deep into the doomed world of young Owen and Abby and, against steep odds, improve on the performances of the kids in the original movie.

Vincent Cassel, "Black Swan": The two things that surprised me about Darren Aronofsky's movie is just how much of a B-movie schlockfest it really is (albeit about the ballet, of course), and just how good Vincent Cassel is as the ballet director who expertly manipulates his young dancers, never with overt menace but an equally dangerous charm.

Christian Bale, "The Fighter": Bale's extreme measures - and weight fluctuation - to get into his roles would be easy to mock if there clearly weren't more than madness to his method. Here, he's on the very gaunt side as Dicky Eklund, the crack-addicted brother of Mark Wahlberg's titular "Fighter" and the main thing that helps David O. Russell's movie rise above the pack of standard sports underdog flicks.

James Franco, "127 Hours": As I said, the best for last, and this year it's by a pretty wide margin. As Sam Rockwell did last year in the seriously smart sci-fi flick "Moon," Franco dominated almost every frame of Danny Boyle's movie, and never once lets the viewer get bored of watching him. From the exuberance of the beginning of Aron Ralston's perfect day to the extreme desperation of being trapped under a rock for the titular "127 Hours," Franco takes us along every inch of this often very hard to watch journey, making the payoff all the more rewarding at the finish. Just an all-around excellent performance.

And there you have it. Please feel free to let me know of any I may have snubbed (in the honorable mention, I've already got Christopher Plummer in "The Last Station", Michael Nyqvist in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"/"The Girl Who Played With Fire" and George Clooney in "The American"), and have a perfectly endurable Monday. Peace out.


jeremy said...

Edward Norton, "Leaves of Grass"--love those performances as twin brothers with different agendas.

Reel Fanatic said...

Ah ... that's one I haven't seen, but I assume it's out on DVD now, so I'll definitely check it out

Tom Clift said...

A great list, with a few I still need to check out, but where on earth are the boys from The Social Network?! Timberlake, Garfield and Eisenberg would all make my list for sure; honestly, i think Eisenberg gives the best performance of 2010, male or female!

Reel Fanatic said...

Eisenberg almost made the cut, Tom, and you're right that as an ensemble they were fantastic ... Actually, now that I think about it, I thought Andrew Garfield was even better than Eisenberg, but they were all great

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