This decade is not over yet but here are some of the best performances in film by actors I have seen the last ten years or so….
JAVIER BARDEM – NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter became an icon of villainy in the 1990’s….Bardem as Anton Chigur is becoming so this decade….An amazing look backed up with the sense of irritation he feels at other’s inability to grasp the unstoppable logic of his murdering ways created the most memorable screen character of this decade
KEY SCENE -The exchange between Bardem and the service station attendant is disturbing, suspenseful, and funny at the same time.
AJ BOWEN – THE SIGNAL
THE SIGNAL is an extremely well-written movie that avoids all horror movie clichés since it really isn’t one but rather is an art film….Bowen as the husband whose wife is having an affair actually finds more sense in the twisted world of the mind altering signal than in reality….As an actor, he really gets inside a complicated character and makes it easy for the audience to understand….One of the most interesting performances I’ve ever seen.
KEY SCENE –Although many of his rambling conversations with people he is about to commit violence against are funny and terrifying, Bowen’s conversation with himself at the end tops everything.
MICHAEL CAINE – THE QUIET AMERICAN
Like Jack Lemmon in last decade’s GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, Caine summons up every bit of pathos for this role and like Lemmon, I believe he deserved an Academy Award for this role and also like Lemmon he didn’t win….Both the original novel by Graham Greene and this film adaptation are the perfect criticism of the neo-conservative mindset and Caine, as the slightly corrupt world weary British reporter, is the perfect narrator for the rise and fall of Alden Pyle.
KEY SCENE – The drunken Caine running through the US Embassy looking for his stolen girlfriend is heartbreaking and powerful.
EMILE HIRSCH – INTO THE WILD
Hirsch downplays this role that another actor might have overplayed in a flashy Christ-like manner….In doing so, his actions (getting rid of all his material possessions, dropping out of the material society) make perfect sense….Hirsch making this character a gentle aesthete instead of a wild-eyed visionary was a great choice and acting is all about choices.
KEY SCENE – I particularly find the scenes between Hirsch and Hal Holbrook as a lonely widower with no kids deeply moving because again they are not overacted….Holbrook is also brilliant in this film.
JON HEDER – NAPOLEON DYNAMITE
Creating a memorable character out of thin air is a very hard task….Heder’s socially awkward and completely nonsensical Dynamite is a memorable comic creation on par with Inspector Clouseau or Chaplin’s Tramp….If he based this on a real person, I would really like to meet that person.
KEY SCENE – Too many to name.
COLIN FIRTH – WHERE THE TRUTH LIES
It’s fun to see an actor who has established himself in a certain type of role go against type in a role….The normally slightly befuddled nice guy, the cool Mr. Darcy Colin Firth as an aging entertainer with a lot of weird sexual habits is really a surprising role and he pulls it off with a lot of emotion and energy.
KEY SCENE – The final flashback of what actually occurred in the hotel room between Firth and Kevin Bacon is a quick moving scene but when Firth realizes the rejection, disgust, and anger shown towards him by someone he deeply cares for, the look on his face is amazing.
DENZEL WASHINGTON – TRAINING DAY
Washington, like Colin Firth, takes on a different role here, a villainous one but also one that it is multi-faceted and leaves the viewer confused until the last 1/3 of the film as to whether or not he really is such a bad guy….I think Washington deliberately plays up his character’s good side (and he does have one…. this is a complex portrait of villainy indeed).
KEY SCENE – Washington’s pathetic speech once he realizes the neighbors in his community are turning against him after being terrorized for so long is made powerful by physical gestures such as his sarcastic laughing….It is almost Shakespearean.
GREG KINNEAR – AUTOFOCUS and LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
Kinnear might be the most underrated actor working in Hollywood today and these are perhaps two of his greatest roles so far….As TV sitcom star and sex addict Bob Crane in AUTOFOCUS, Kinnear shows not only a character’s downfall but also that he didn’t have much of a soul to begin with….In LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, Kinnear plays a loser who becomes a winner by following his own set of personal goals….In a movie filled with great performances, Kinnear makes an unlikeable character comedic and, at the end during the performance of his daughter, one could say heroic.
KEY SCENE – In AUTOFOCUS, either the conversation in the car with his son about what the color orange looks like or his final phone call to Willem DaFoe’s character (DaFoe is just as good as Kinnear in this film). One can sense the desperation in both scenes….In LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, there are many but I think the scene where he confronts the agent and realizes that the 9 stop program isn’t just a hokey con but something he believes in is great
ROBERT DOWNEY JR. –TROPIC THUNDER
A great comedic performance in a movie full of them…. Downey as an Australian method actor acting as an African American is an amazing work of acting dexterity.
KEY SCENE – The conversation with Ben Stiller where he states “never go full retard” is something I can watch again and again.
TIM ROBBINS – MYSTIC RIVER
Sometimes it’s not a matter of speaking the lines with emotion or utilizing make-up or changing your physical appearance, sometimes it’s simply a matter of acting the way someone would who had undergone what is in the movie….Robbins, as a survivor of kidnapping and childhood sexual abuse, really inhabits this role with his sloping shoulders and nervous, shambling gait, he is still the child who is frozen at the time his childhood was taken from him.
KEY SCENE – All of the scenes between Robbins and his wife are a tutorial in acting but his death scene where he realizes the irony what’s happening to him is brilliant acting.
The decade’s not over….Let’s see if there will be anymore performances added to this list by the end of 2009.